In my nearly four years at PRWeek, there are a few common phrases that I have heard repeated by PR pros so often that they have become tired cliches. Among them are, "We are committed to transparency," "We are working in the best interest of the client," and "PR now has a seat at the table." However, the one that is the most frustrating to hear repeated is, without a doubt, "The cobbler's children have no shoes."
It's a common retort both reporters and editors hear from PR agencies as an explanation for why their interaction with PRWeek is lacking. The idea is that they are so busy dealing with their "real" clients that they never stop to think of the agency itself as a client. With so many firms and so much innovative work being done on behalf of those "real" clients, it is a difficult task for an industry trade outlet to know about everything. All of this makes the job of an agency PR person that much more important.
Historically, it has been difficult to retain personnel in the marketing/PR position for an agency - and probably with good reason. It can be tough to get publicity for a PR firm when the work is being done on behalf of clients who would rather not disclose their relationship with that agency, much less talk about a specific campaign. And not only is the job of an agency's PR pro difficult, but it is also often underappreciated among other employees within the agency who may wonder how that person can be so busy with the agency as his or her main client. Yet that job is important to getting the agency the recognition it deserves - whether through media coverage, entering into awards competitions, or finding thought-leadership opportunities for top agency executives.
Small and midsize agencies will invariably bemoan the fact that they don't have the resources the big firms do to hire a dedicated PR or marketing person to handle outreach on their behalf. However, size really has nothing to do with it. Some of the industry's largest PR agencies are, quite frankly, terrible at their own PR. Conversely, many small and midsize firms that assign employees to work part-time on the agency's PR have had great success.
Agencies for too long have thought of their own positioning in terms of "asking clients for favors" or "something that's nice-to-have, but not a necessity."
But, as PRWeek's last editorial shows, clients have the advantage of a "buyer's market," so agencies are jumping through more hoops during the RFP process. It's not unreasonable to think that organizations holding an RFP might have already made their decision about which agency they want, based on their knowledge of the work that firm has already done.
Personally, I'd never go to a cobbler who would allow his children to go without shoes. I'm pretty sure many current and prospective clients feel the same way.