The drive-thru PR apocalypse, or, why agencies must learn to strengthen their ‘no’ muscle

PR agencies need to learn to say no. Phoebe Netto, founder of Pure Public Relations, explains why 'fast-food PR' models are doing far more harm than good.

The economy’s a mess. Budgets are shrinking. Clients are cautious. In this environment, it’s easy for agencies to want to say yes to every single piece of business that comes their way.

Lately, I’ve seen several agencies attempting to solve this problem with a “revolutionary”, “world-first”, “game-changing” way to do business: fast-food PR that allows clients to purchase various PR services at the click of a button, usually directly from their site.

Want a press release sent to journalists? Just click a button, put in your credit card details, and you’re done! What a genius solution, in this economy! (I hope you can hear my sarcasm coming through loud and clear).

Here’s the problem: this drive-through style of media coverage puts absolutely no qualifiers around the agency’s right to decline based on the quality or ethics of the client’s business. These agencies are setting themselves up to automatically say yes to every single client that comes their way.

By saying yes to every project, opportunity, or partnership that comes their way, fast-food PR models are doing far more harm than good.

The ability to say no is everything. By declining to work with clients whose values or practices do not align with their own, agencies uphold their integrity and maintain their reputation. While it may seem counterintuitive to turn down business, it is essential for long-term success.

Being selective about the deals you make is an important muscle that all successful agencies must learn to strengthen. By saying yes to everything, you remove that special something that makes you unique. By trying to become all things to all people, you’ll become a master of none.

Saying no isn’t just about maintaining integrity; it’s also about safeguarding future opportunities. Potential clients often evaluate an agency based on its client list and the work it produces. If an agency consistently produces subpar work, doesn’t get impressive results (because perhaps they said ‘yes’ to a bad fit or couldn’t meet unrealistic expectations) or aligns itself with questionable clients, it may deter potential clients from seeking their services and annoy the media or other stakeholders.

If you don’t say no to the wrong clients or projects, someone else will eventually say no to you. And it’s usually the clients or projects you should have declined in the first place that come back to haunt you (let’s be quick to learn this lesson!).

At our agency, we try our best to prioritise quality over quantity. We choose to work with clients whose values align with ours – which can sometimes mean declining clients who may offer attention but lack integrity or professionalism. We constantly prove that saying no to certain opportunities means we can say yes to something better, and it gives us the confidence to guarantee results.

And yes, I fully acknowledge that sales funnels are not what they were. Budgets are not what they were. Campaigns and retainers are not the length they once were. There’s a lot of uncertainty. It’s harder to get business across the line and it’s harder to get clients and keep them, full stop. But that should mean that you actually increase the quality and value: not stoop to the lowest level in improvident practices.

It’s only by saying no that we can say yes to something greater.



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