Platform: Why agencies don’t deserve my business - If PR agencies cannot sell themselves, how can they expect to be given responsibility for selling a major company, asks Gail Hall

When it was reported in PR Week a year ago that I had joined Intel, my phone became jammed with PR agencies desperate to win the business of the world’s largest chip maker. It was something I watched with interest, as I had joined Intel from a full service agency where cold calling and maintaining a database had been part of my responsibilities.

When it was reported in PR Week a year ago that I had joined Intel,

my phone became jammed with PR agencies desperate to win the business of

the world’s largest chip maker. It was something I watched with

interest, as I had joined Intel from a full service agency where cold

calling and maintaining a database had been part of my

responsibilities.



Some of the calls and letters were indeed interesting although not

always for the right reasons. A leading hi-tech agency which claims to

do direct mail, mailed me under several names - Mr Hall was one, and the

more abrupt ’Hall’ was another. Meanwhile, my desk groaned under a

turgid array of mailshots and brochures, none of which would have

induced me to pick up the phone. Some were too awful to contemplate -

photocopies of ancient cuttings with spiral bindings, very arrogant

letters listing reasons why I should call immediately.



What surprised me most is that in 99 per cent of the letters, the agency

suggested I call if I am interested. What I learnt at my agency was that

if you said in a letter you would call to discuss, and then did, while

the letter was uppermost in their minds, you often achieved a

credentials meeting.



Then there were, and are, the phone calls. I admire agencies who find my

direct number but it’s clear that some of the callers are bored or

stressed telemarketers who know nothing about PR and crumble at the

first hurdle when asked a question about media evaluation or such

like.



The only time I have ever agreed to meet an unknown agency after a phone

call was when the MD of a start-up called me, asked if I had time to

speak, and then asked some interesting questions - not ’which agency do

you use and do you plan to review them?’ but questions about my

background, where we had common ground, and media evaluations. We met,

the credentials was satisfyingly free of case histories of clients the

agency worked for years ago, and they got our business.



One of the latest gimmicks is to invite the hassled PR practitioner to

breakfast. The offer of breakfast at the Ritz was one that seemed too

good to miss - but I and a colleague were disappointed to find we were

among dozens of PR people herded into a room to watch an OHP

presentation - with no breakfast, unless you count a plate of croissants

hurriedly passed around.



So, PR agencies, if you want to come across as creative, interesting and

employable, I have a few tips.



Your literature should reflect your image. If sloppy photocopying and

letters filled with punctuation and grammatical errors are your style,

fine. It might annoy you, but I expect your brochures to look stylish

and expensive.



Check and double check your database. We get mail for people who left

five years ago.



Don’t make assumptions, like the IT specialists who are crestfallen when

I tell them Intel targets consumer space as well as the hi-tech

industry.



Don’t be timid, either on the phone or in letters. Say you will call to

fix an appointment and then call. I will have remembered your letter if

it was something other than the usual mispelled hokum.



Try to remember something from our conversation which you can use again

when we speak in six months’ time. I was annoyed yesterday when the MD

of a PR agency started his conversation by saying ’we’ve never spoken

before ...’ when I remembered him calling me a few months ago.



Don’t ask me who looks after our advertising and if you can have their

address.



In short, if you convince me that you can sell yourselves, you might

convince me you can sell my company.



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