Book Reviews

Public Relations

Managing a Public Relations Firm for Growth and Profit

Author: Alvin Croft
Publisher Routledge
Publication Date: Mar 3 2006

Reviewer:Andy Marken
In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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Granted we haven't read books in a broad range of specific subject areas but Croft is one of the few authors we can recall who focuses his expertise on one important (from our selfish perspective) area – running an agency successfully and profitably.
His second edition is a welcome update of our well-worn copy of Managing a Public Relations Firm.  His ability to combine real case studies with step-by-step how to do it guidelines again covers all of the areas we've encountered in our 25+years in the business.
While his latest book is a must read for senior management of agencies as well as PR people who are contemplating hanging out their own shingle; we believe it is also an excellent resource for people inside organizations.  
Every public relations person should run his or her activity and program for profit – if not for growth – whether they are in an agency or enterprise!  Everyone in the field should take a long-hard look at their annual and quarterly programs to ensure every aspect contributes to the bottom line of the organization because that is the way management in every organization manages the growth of their firm.  
While we respect Croft's single-minded focus on agency management, growth and profits, we earnestly believe that every public relations practitioner should look at the book in terms of personal and organizational growth.  It goes without saying that every PR person has a budge to work with.  How you develop, present, sell and manage that budget determines how profitable you are to the client (your management).  
Running an agency is far from glamorous.  Having your name on the front door quickly loses its "thrill."  Without books like Croft's it can be plain hard work at best or a complete disaster at worst.
Despite the fun of working with a broad range of creative people and situations, despite the adrenalin-rush of doing something that few others can do to produce positive results and despite the uncertainty of working in a business climate that is changing so rapidly; public relations is still a business.  As with any business – for profit or non-profit – it is all about achieving the growth you want to achieve and being profitable.
Directly or indirectly you are responsible for producing that growth and profitability.
Croft's latest edition lets you see how today's game is played and won.  Agency heads have to learn how to balance business that is in house as well as future clients because the moment you win a client you have to begin the task of looking for their replacement.
Croft spells out the familiar game that is played out every day called the agency search.  He helps the reader go through the process of identifying the agency's strengths and weaknesses.  He shows you how to manage your most valuable resource – staff and time.  
In a logical, and easy to follow – and use -- process he shows you how to manage the accounting and billing for time to ensure profitability of clients, individuals and the agency.  
We find it interesting (and valuable) that he pushes the marketing aspect of agency growth early in the book.  And yet while many agencies focus on marketing communications their own marketing is hap hazardous at best.  Yet if you don't focus on doing the precise thing you advise clients to do most new business efforts are like playing darts with a blindfold on…luck at best.  
We found reading his new business secrets both interesting and helpful that we have probably read the section six – seven times.  In many ways this may be the very heart of the book because winning the right business is more important than winning business.  
It's tough to get up from the table and walk away from a prospect or a client but in many instances it can be the best thing you can do for your agency's growth and profitability.  We know…bitter experience has proven that if we had taken the advice that Croft so clearly spells out we would have been ahead both monetarily as well as from a mental health perspective.  
When it doesn't feel right you usually come to the realization that it wasn't right!
Croft has focused on the business of agency business ever since we have been aware of his work.  One of the beneficial aspects of the book is his inclusion of profiles of agencies and professionals in the field.  
These profiles give you a real-life glimpse into other professionals' thought processes and approaches to the broad range of business activities that agency heads must master.  These profiles are valuable since most agencies in the country (and around the globe) are small-medium sized agencies.  Few have the luxury of professional HR, IT, R&D and other business infrastructure departments.  
The counselor section of PRSA is valuable to agency executives but seldom do you get the full benefits of the up close and personal insights the agency principals provide in Croft's book.
Unlike most of us who focus on the public relations activities and programs, Croft seems to have always focused on the business of public relations.  As such, he has not only done it but more importantly he has helped hundreds of other agency principals improve their business activities.  He freely shares this information in his latest edition.  
If you read nothing more than the agency executive profiles he includes with each chapter you can gain a world of experience and expertise in just a few evenings.  
Managing a public relations agency is really no different than managing any business.  But for some reason (perhaps our own shortcomings) it is more difficult to manage growth and profit.  
If you head an agency, Managing a Public Relations Firm is a must-read.  If you are contemplating starting your own agency – for whatever reason – this is the book you need to read.  If you have no desire to leave your organization and want to operate your PR activity as a bottom-line centric business – or simply want to scare your boss – grab a copy of Croft's book, read it and keep it in your office library as an important reference!