The best bits and worst bits about running a PR firm, from Hotwire CEO Barbara Bates

In my current role as CEO at Hotwire and with 25 years’ experience of running agencies, when it comes to the inspiring and the infuriating parts of PR, I have seen it all. Despite the inevitable ups and downs of agency life, it’s the inspiring that makes us love our job and the infuriating which challenges us as an agency to live our brand values and be transparent with clients.

Staff churn
When it comes to the infuriating, I have found that one of the biggest complaints clients have about agencies is staff turnover. In reality, clients have just as much to do with the happiness of staff as the agency does. Yes, as an agency we can provide benefits such as thoughtful working, great holidays, travel, training, bonuses etc. but when clients don’t treat agency staff as partners, we see much higher turnover. This is a pet peeve of mine as the fact is, agency staff feel as though they work for their clients, as much as their agency.

If, as a client, you are unhappy with the turnover within your agency, a good place to start is to look in the mirror and truly understand what part you are playing in making their job both fulfilling and enriching. We find our best relationships are based on trust and are with the clients who see us as an extension of their team.

Payment systems
Another topic which I find infuriating is how clients compensate their agencies. This isn’t necessarily how much agencies are compensated, but more about the misalignment of what they want versus what they're willing to pay for. In my experience, I have found that clients are more comfortable paying by the hour. Because of this, they look to measure how many hours and how many people are working on their business and look at their agency to fill their time with tactical execution outputs.

When asked what they really want from their agencies however, most say ‘strategy’ and ‘creative thinking’. Yet, these two things that are not delivered by the hour, nor do they ever show up as line items within budgets. While this is an industry-wide issue, here we aim to be smart with how we use our hours to ensure we deliver the best work for clients.

Being human
Enough of the infuriating though, and on to the inspiring. While it’s hard to narrow it down – this is truly an amazing industry to work in and I am constantly motivated by my peers. I personally, am really inspired with how companies are embracing the need to be more human as a brand, as opposed to being just a company.

It’s encouraging that the current generation want the companies they do business with to be more purpose-driven. Things have moved on from brands hiding behind CSR programmes to organisations who take a stand on the issues that matter such as sustainability, transparency or fair employment practices.

Purposeful businesses
I have always been impressed with Marc Benioff and how he runs Salesforce. Benioff created Salesforce not just to develop great products but to also have a positive impact on the world. His 1:1:1 model of philanthropy has helped to improve communities around the world and has been adopted by more than 5,000 companies. Benioff walks the talk! I also get inspiration from Patagonia, REI and Levi’s as businesses that have always been purpose-led. Like Benioff, they do things that align with their values and purpose. There is a lot that can be learnt from these organisations and is why, at Hotwire, we take pride in being transparent with our clients and in promoting diversity and ethical working standards across our business.

Whilst PR is constantly changing and the competition continues to pick up, there is much to be inspired by as well as to learn from. We are working to be the best agency people will ever work with or work for. Because of this, it’s my mission to ensure that we are learning from both the good and the bad.

Written by Barbara Bates, CEO of PR firm Hotwire