How to stop wasting time in PR

When it comes to time-wasting tasks in PR, “A” has to be for admin! But unnecesary paperwork isn’t the only drain on time in PR, here we list nine activities that soak up hours that could be better spent elsewhere.


Over-servicing has always been a bugbear in PR, and continues to waste PRO time. Hayley Peters, associate director at agency Smoking Gun PR, explains why: “As with any service-led industry, we sell our time to clients. This is where PR is essentially flawed because we’re selling our time in an industry that’s predominantly based on results we don’t control.

“So when campaigns don’t make the impact we want, we invest more time in reworking to ensure we deliver against the KPIs set out. Thus comes the dreaded agency buzzword: ‘over-service'. In the 13 years I’ve worked in the industry I can honestly say, not one agency has truly cracked this problem.”

Mundane tasks

Peters also discusses how it is easy to get sidetracked by non-essential work in PR: “Digital comms has increased significantly the demands on a PRO’s time, meaning time effectiveness has become even more critical to delivering quality campaigns and managing a profitable and sustainable PR agency. At Smoking Gun, we’re constantly looking at ways to save time on the more mundane tasks so we can focus on the things that really matter to our clients.

“A smarter working culture is key to this – from banning internal emails to using stop watches in internal meetings, even hosting ‘standing-only’ meetings – helping colleagues retain focus and get to the point quicker.”

Poor briefs

If clients want great solutions, they have to be clear what their problems are. As Ian McCawley, managing director of agency Acuity PR, says: “Brittle content briefs are a classic waste of PR time. There’s a perception among some clients – a minority, I should point out, in the interests of keeping the agency going – that great content can be conjured from very little source material. Whilst the lack of a proper brief allows PROs to show off their natural creative flair, it can also lead to frustrating conversations with marketing teams who realise after the (resource-heavy) first draft is done that they were thinking of something completely different.

“The answer to this dilemma, which I know from bitter recent experience, is to insist on a proper brief and a realistic fee from the word go. Yes budgets are tight, but clients need to understand the value of a well-crafted piece of content and give a proper spec to suit.

“You wouldn’t commission a builder to work on your house without detailed plans, and you’d expect to pay a decent whack for them to get it right. So why treat content, which can make a huge difference to marketing campaigns and lead generation, any different?”

Unnecessary client reports

Jide Adesesan, senior account executive at marketing agency Tungtree, describes the frustration of having to report when there is nothing to report: “I used to work at an agency (won't mention names) where we were always having to report to clients weekly on medium- and long-term activities. Whilst it is important to build client relationships, and to keep them abreast of how each PR activity is progressing, the problem is that you are having to repeat each activity without much progress made (every week). If you consider the time it takes to set up these meetings with very busy clients and put together the updates, that time could have been spent getting on with the actual project, producing the desired outcomes. Invariably, when you do need an urgent sign off on a time-sensitive activity, you find yourself leaving voicemails to no avail.” 

Jill Hawkins, director at agency Aniseed PR agrees: “The most frustrating/ waste of time for me is when clients ask for really detailed frequent reports. I know that they need to know what’s going on and keeping them up to speed is essential – but sometimes the level of detail and frequency of the report requested actually takes longer to do that the work does!”

Meetings, meetings, meetings

Some meetings are invaluable, but Howard Robinson, director at consultancy Astute Marketeers,points out that many are a waste of time: “The single biggest thing that waste time is meetings for the sake of having meetings, usually to discuss the next available date to have a meeting. There are, of course, some things that need to be and are best discussed face-to-face, but with the technology available now, whether Skype or conference calling, the ability to jump on a call, be very focused and jump off again should be making life far more efficient for everyone.”


Robinson also complains about unnecessary admin: “Most PR professionals would probably complain about admin, partly because it’s the one thing that stops you from doing the fun stuff and getting your creative juices flowing. I don’t have a problem with admin where it supports the process, but processes and procedures that are more appropriate for organisations 100 times the size of the agency are usually a barrier to actually doing some work. Clients buy the agency’s creativity, knowledge and strategic thinking – we should be doing anything we can to let that shine through.”


Sometimes it is better to walk away says Jo Sensini, owner of agency Velvet PR: “What is the point of repitching for a piece of business without checking whether you have any sort of chance of retaining it? It’s easy to have misplaced pride and to be bloody-minded about going through the process come-what-may. However I’m a great believer in having a very honest conversation with the client to assess your chances. Also, your team will have a definite view on how much value that particular client brings to the business.”  

Unnecessary rewriting

When it comes to writing, Sensini thinks less can be more. She describes how meddling with copy can waste time and ruin it: ”When you have producing a piece of writing that’s spot on for the slot you’ve secured – and then your client gets to work and it’s a demoralising cycle of toing and froing where you end up with a half-hearted compromise that no-one’s really happy with. Of course, pitching it in then becomes a nightmare.”

Bad media lists

Last, but not least, poorly researched media lists are a huge waste of time. Sensini explains: “I come from an age where you still had to compile them from paper media directories. Pre-internet you had to order a copy of the publication and get your head around what they were all about before you dared call up to pitch. List/data businesses are a great thing, but the ease with which you can build a media list now means that some of the names can be way off. Sending information to the wrong person is a waste of time and harms your reputation. Much better to pus proper time into researching a list that is fit for purpose – data services are great, but put some of your own thinking into the process too!”