Carl Hopkins Public Relations Feature

The Agency Agony Uncle

By The Drum | Administrator

August 7, 2008 | 7 min read

The truth hurts. Especially when it slaps you across the face. Our Agency Agony Uncle is no stranger to the painful hand of reality... So, with kid-gloves removed, Uncle Carl delivers his stinging response to all your marketing dilemmas.

It’s great when our PR works for us, isn’t it? But it can be worrying if stories start appearing that we have had no control over. And that’s what PR is, controlling how the outside world see us and our businesses while we hide some (or all) of the truth. The only problem is that those closest to you probably know and see the ‘truth’ everyday. They then take that home to their loved ones... or worse, to their friends (and probably your competition) in the pub, and start blabbing! That’s when we are out of control and the rumours, the speculation and bad press starts. I’m glad you are happy with your PR at present. I fail to see how any future downturn in the economy will necessarily promote bad news about you if you attempt to keep your staff up-to-date and informed on the business. Tell them of your hopes and fears and share your plans with them.Discuss possible areas of concern and seek out solutions, ideally before they happen. If you do not fill the ‘silence’ within your agency with accurate and real information, then your workforce will fill the void with inaccuracies and fantasy – none of which will be good and that’s the stuff they will take home... or worse still to the pub. Dear Uncle Carl,The agency I have been working for over the last four years has closed and I’ve decided now is the right time for me to start my own company. The only thing is, I’d rather someone else launched it with me. What should I be looking for in a prospective business partner? Someone with more balls than you? Sorry, but your question seems less than passion-filled. Surely starting your own business is an exciting and potentially life changing venture but I don’t really sense that from your question. What I do sense is a bit of fear – which is probably a healthy thing but it sounds a little debilitating too. There is an honesty to your question – you realise you have some weaknesses and therefore your search for a partner should be someone who complements your strengths and hides your weaknesses! If you are creative, do you need a project manager? Or vice versa? If you are a programmer do you need a designer? If you are an introvert do you need an extrovert? Are you a behind-the-scenes type of person and need a front-of-house guy? Also what type of business are you trying to build, what is your vision? And who are your target audience and what type of service do they require?It’s these types of questions that will help you define the kind of person you are looking for. But you are about to enter into a partnership so get to know the person too, not just their skills. This is the start of a marriage – not a one night stand. Dear Uncle Carl,I’ve become frustrated by the tendency agencies have to believe any method or approach taken by a rival is wrong... and that everything they do is right. We should be able to learn from what works for others and integrate some of those elements into the best things that we do! How can I get my colleagues to realise we are not the all-knowing oracle and that sometimes it’s okay to look at what’s going on elsewhere? Ever heard this before: “I suppose it is tempting if all you have is a hammer, to treat every problem as if it were a nail”? It’s been quoted many times and accredited to many people but whoever said it first may have worked in an agency!You are right, there is usually more than one solution to a client’s problems, marketing, creative or budgetary! As soon as you believe you have the sole answer to all of your clients or prospects problems then you are lost.It’s similar to when printers in the 90’s started ‘agencies’ – funnily enough all the solutions to client problems ended up in a two-colour envelope? “Where’s your ‘media neutral’ approach there,” I asked them? Having said that, I do not think any one agency can be totally and consistently neutral due to its staff and talents, combined with the fads in marketing and business pressures of chasing profits. All you can do is present a balanced solution and one which you can test and adjust according to results. The true problem is education – education of staff and clients. An easy way to gain exposure to wider marketing solutions is to study many casestudies and take the best of what works. As agencies, you need to be constantly exposed to different aspects of marketing in order to advise your clients honestly. Your team mates need to stop being so blinkered and look at the bigger picture. Stop trying to be independent all of the time and form partnerships with others – become ‘inter-dependent’. Dear Uncle Carl,I used to be a senior designer, but quit the business to work on other projects. Now, after a five-year absence, I want to get back into the industry. How easy will it be to pick up where I left off? Will I need to take a step down to get back in? We missed you. It will not be easy as it simply isn’t easy for anyone at the moment. ‘Stepping down’ isn’t really an issue, it’s about the right opportunity that you feel happy with, should you come across one. The problem is that our industry has always been awash with ‘wannabee’ creatives while there has been a dearth of real talent. So I’m afraid if you are just another mediocre designer (senior or not), then get ready to join the queues, as the agency world you left behind has, on the whole, hit hard times. There are more closures and sneaky redundancies than you really need to know about and this means that there are even more ‘has-beens’ and ‘can-dos’ joining the usual ‘never-going-to-be-employed - wanabees’. The clever agencies are also holding on to their good staff and the mediocre staff are sitting tight if they have a job, all of which adds up to a pretty stagnant job market.Now, having said all of that, your Uncle Carl knows from his own contacts that there are still many agencies out there looking for experience and talent but just not shouting about it. Also the freelance market is picking-up as agencies are avoiding long term staff commitments, so there are opportunities for you. You simply have to know where to look, who to talk to and of course ‘have the skills to pay the bills’. Good luck.

Are you troubled? Don’t be. send all your questions for the drum’s agony uncle to Or, If you wish to meet with carl to talk about your business, then simply email him on

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