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Why WYSIWYG is important for PR agencies

Those of us who’ve spent the better part of the last two decades in tech PR are familiar with the acronym WYSIWYG, which stands for “what you see is what you get.” In software development, this acronym describes a type of program that allows a developer to see, in real time, what the end result will look like as the interface is being created.

In public relations, I’m learning, WSIWYG is not the standard operation for many PR agencies. In the last several new business meetings we’ve had, these questions have come up repeatedly: “Who will be working on my account, really? Who will be my actual team?” After a moment of stunned silence from our team, the answer is always, “What you see is what you get.”

There are some aspects of public relations that seem mysterious – even magical – to clients. But the actual makeup of the PR team who will be working day-to-day on their account shouldn’t be one of them. What we’ve been hearing, from current clients who come to us after having a bad experience with another agency, or from prospects in the midst of an exhaustive agency review, is alarming. Agencies, in order to win the business, will bring in one or two “ringers” – usually senior partners who haven’t written a media pitch or executed a PR plan in ages – to charm the prospect, and once the business has been won, they hand off the account to one or two junior staffers who must live up to the hype and promises of the ringers.

There are a few major reasons why this “bait-and-switch” technique is a bad idea:

It holds your full team back from career growth. The “ringer” approach doesn’t give the true subject matter experts on your team – the ones doing all the writing, pitching, creative ideation and account management -- a chance to show the prospect what and who they know. Your team misses out on the chance to develop important new skills they’d learn by participating in a new business pitch. Further, you’re communicating to the client that the folks who weren’t worthy enough to be mentioned in the client pitch are less important – your “B-Team” staff.

It immediately erodes client trust. The number-one reason why clients leave agencies is trust. Either they don’t believe that their PR team is doing everything they promised, or they don’t trust in the team’s ability to get the job done.

Building trust with clients is tricky, and it takes time. This is especially true of clients who’ve been burned by agencies in the past, or clients who don’t have a good understanding of the value an agency can bring. The “ringer” technique puts a considerable dent in the trust-building process from day one.

It chips away at the agency’s reputation. In PR, we spend the majority of time protecting the reputations of our clients – but what about our own? We’re a service industry, and perception is everything. In the new business meetings my team takes, prospects don’t just mention the “bait-and-switch” technique as a turn-off – they’ll freely name agency names. Word travels fast, especially if that word is negative. You may be able to coast for a while using these kinds of deceptive practices, but sooner or later, it will catch up to you. Then what?

Our approach is one of complete transparency – even if it means we don’t always win the business. We believe that small teams of subject matter experts at all experience levels, from account co-ordinators to senior directors, are the right way to do great work. And the good news is, WYSIWYG works for us most of the time.

Article written by Michelle Barry, director of tech PR at agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry

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