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12 rules to run a successful PR agency

15th October 2013

I attended the ICCO summit in Paris last week. I suspect there are a few within our leadership who are not too familiar with ICCO? Intriguingly, ICCO is a worldwide trade body for PR agency trade bodies! I reckon the key themes of the conference were:

The title of the conference was “Change or Perish.” Perhaps it was my wariness of attending too many PR conferences recently – but I felt the title of the event may have put a few too many speakers on the back foot. There was a little bit too much inward criticism of PR and perhaps not enough embracing of the change and great work that is happening within the sector. At the risk of repeating myself from previous blogs (here and here) whilst I don't pretend PR has reached some sort of promise land, I do think the change of skills and rapid evolution of working practices that we’re seeing within the sector is impressive, bearing in mind where PR was circa 5 years ago. The marketing communications sector is coming the way of public relations and whilst we should be self-critical, we should not be paranoid. There is a lot of great work going on in public relations right now by highly skilled people. Emailing people all day is not work Amongst a fair bit of PR royalty, it was undoubtedly Lord Chadlington who stole the show. Fresh from signing a deal to bring together Huntsworth and Blue Focus, Chadlington was punchy, positive, but pretty brutal. Here are his 12 points on how to run a great public relations agency. (They could also be excellent further reading for anyone on how to embrace a successful career.)

  1. Everything is possible Be ambitious, reach for the sky!
  2. Make sure clients are at the centre of your business Normal hierarchical structures are irrelevant for PR agencies. Think of your business as a dart board, with the client at the centre. Importantly, keep the FD as far away from the client as possible!
  3. Hire people smarter than you – and don’t employ people that don’t get digital. If you've got people in your business that are not able to, or not prepared to embrace digital – get rid of them!
  4. Be tough about yourselves, your colleagues and your clients
  5. Keep business and life separate Be friendly to your staff but always remember that you are the boss and bosses have to make difficult decisions.
  6. Learn about money and numbers Understand how to read a balance sheet – if you don’t know how, learn! It’s not difficult; you can even buy an App which will tells you how to do it.
  7. PR people are ignorant – they need to read more! He wasn't talking about PR text books, he meant proper books! The classics, history, serious auto biographies. Reading broadens and exercises the mind, which is vital when it comes to wise client advice.
  8. Think enough Think before you do.
  9. Beware morality creep – stay honest! We've all been there – ethics are rarely black and white. They can be many shades of grey. Understand your ethical compass and be prepared to turn down work.
  10. Manage expectations If you promise the client the earth – don’t be surprised when they are annoyed when you don’t deliver it. Many a client has criticised excellent work on the basis of unrealistic expectations.
  11. Get the small things right Very often clients get annoyed about the little stuff. Attention to detail is really important.
  12. Never ever, ever, ever give up. Many people do not realise how close they were to success when they give up.

One other point Lord Chadlington said that resonated with me: “emailing people all day is not work.” His point being, that if you're emailing you are rarely using your brain, you’re just responding to people, and that’s not real work. The people from Prezly sent me this interesting link on their take of the ICCO summit:      

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