The story of how the fake design agency Madbird ensnared unsuspecting job seekers into its web has gone viral, leaving readers shocked at the façade that was created.

Can you blame these unsuspecting employees who trusted that the company they were working for was in fact legitimate? The evidence presented across all aspects of the company set-up was convincing. After all, we were in the thick of a global pandemic and relied heavily on technology (and still do). It’s become an important conduit of communication in our professional and personal lives.

I myself made the decision to accept a job offer in London and immigrate to the UK – based solely on communication and interaction through technology with a dash of blind faith. Job interviews over Zoom/MS teams have become the norm. Fortunately, I evaded becoming a casualty of jobfishing and joined an established, reputable, and dynamic European tech PR agency.   

Madbird was built lie upon lie and rotten to the core, using a technology-built façade as a blunt instrument to lure clients and employees. It created fake characters, fake imagery, fake campaigns and fake clients and it nearly succeeded. Is it possible the PR and comms industry might have fake imposters?

Let’s assume our industry is not immune to imposters – what steps can you take to flush out the fakes when looking to partner with a PR or communications agency?

Choosing a European tech PR agency


The first step is to establish if the agency in question is registered and has passed management consultancy standards by a notable industry body or association such as the PRCA.  The agency should be accredited and committed to the development of its own industry.

Word of mouth

Reach out to your network to see if they’ve heard of the agency or its founder and establish if they have a favourable reputation, not only in the communications industry but business circles too.

Don’t be blinded by the flash

Establish whether the PR agency you’re considering partnering with has a passion for and experience in effective communications. Any company can put together a flashy presentation that is hugely impressive, but is there substance? Will the team deliver on promises? Is the agency demonstrating a proactive and brave yet focused? Is it an agency that could align with your company’s strategic imperatives and would the team know how to translate that into a communications strategy?

Chemistry is key

Your PR agency should be an extension of your team and be able to integrate seamlessly into your company and team culture. Setting up a chemistry session (in person if possible) should quickly tell you if these are the type of people you would like to work with – do they have the right energy and could you see them building strong interpersonal relationships with you and your team? Remember to trust your gut.

Take up referrals and references

Review the case studies or work the agency has executed (and verify it if you can) and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals whether from clients or journalists.

As a communications agency whose core business is servicing technology-driven clients, Firefly has been fortunate to collaborate with many great companies, large and small, whose technology has made a strong case for impacting human lives, business and our planet positively.

Technology may be our passion and an enabler in business, but we spend as much time as we can listening mostly but talking to our clients, and talking amongst ourselves about different ways, better ways or faster way to achieve results and greater impact. Speak to the people proposed on your team, and interview them as you would any potential joiner to your business. You buy into an agency culture, but really you buy a team of people.

It’s official: we can hug our friends and family! I personally am so happy to be able to show the ones I love how much I care for and appreciate them. But when it comes to businesses showing appreciation for the customers that have stood by them during these difficult times, everything is still having to be done at a distance and rather differently than before. So, when everyone could do with a little hug, how can comms and marketing teams help show their company cares and give a little something back?

The growing role of customer advocacy

For any B2B business, the likes of customer success teams have become integral in helping to keep customers happy. Customer experience is now the key brand differentiator, above service or product. Not only will a great customer experience ensure customers will stay with you and are more likely to pay more, increasing customer lifetime value, but these satisfied customers can also become brand ambassadors, spreading the word about your business and bringing in new clients.

As such, whole teams are now being dedicated to customer advocacy – top clients working hand-in-hand with the company to help gain awareness in the industry through the likes of events, speaker engagements and thought leadership.  It’s certainly no surprise as to why.  Any comms or marketing professional knows that word of mouth is still one of the most powerful tools out there – especially as we’re becoming increasingly sceptical of marketing and advertising. In the end, it all boils down to trust.

Building up this trust with your customers first hinges on how you communicate with them. Comms teams are a key ingredient for customer advocacy and need to work closely with customer excellence teams. Moreover, this past year, every business has gone through a lot, potentially had to make cutbacks, and deciding your product or service was one they couldn’t do without means a whole lot more. To keep your customers singing your praises will take a little more too.

Ramping it up a notch

For many, business is only just back up and running – some are still not quite fully operational. In any case, it may mean there is not much spare money floating around in company coffers to be sending the usual corporate gift baskets or organising a large exclusive event for your customers. While your company may wish to offer loyal customers a free upgrade or discount code, that currently may not be feasible either. This is where customer communication comes into its own. Through your customer comms and marketing there are other simple ways to give back and to demonstrate how much your customers mean to you, without breaking the bank. Here’s five of them:

  • Think beyond product or service updates

Email marketing is an age-old customer communication staple, but it may be time to give the content you share an update. For example, was there a great internal initiative your company undertook that received brilliant feedback and made a real difference?  Your customers may be facing a similar challenge and appreciate hearing how you overcame it. Not to mention, this presents an opportunity to show how your company values align with those of your customers.

More importantly, you’re showing how you’re not getting in touch with your customers just to try and sell another product or service. Everything you do is not only about how you’re helping them to succeed but it’s about their overall business and organisational success. It can be easy to pull on any internal communications about these new initiatives and to repackage these to share with customers too. Or if you create customer newsletters, why not include a section dedicated to this? Remember, if possible, always tailor these to ensure they are actually relevant and useful.

  • Talk to them where they want to be

While still effective, email may also not be how every customer wishes to be communicated with, especially in light of the pandemic unleashing a whole raft of new communication and collaboration tools.  It’s time to reassess where your customers are spending most of their time and where they want to be receiving information. This can be easily done through pulling on available engagement data and analytics.

Taking the time and effort to speak to your customers where it is easy and convenient for them is another means to show you’re putting them first. It’s not about your company’s needs but making things easier for them. Not to mention, if you’re speaking to your customers on the right channels, it’s more likely they’ll listen.

  • Listen to their feedback

This also shouldn’t be a one-sided conversation. The continuous sending of content without being able to share anything back can become a little disengaging, even disheartening. Enable your customers to communicate back with you and to share their thoughts and suggestions. If customers feel they can influence product updates and innovations based on their needs, they will be truly invested in you, knowing they will benefit from these developments in the future. Ultimately, customer advocacy is about forming partners, not just customers.  

Comms and marketing teams have unique access to a whole host of easily actionable feedback sources, from email responses to social media messages and comments – these need to be listened to and acted on. Not to mention, these are invaluable for informing wider and overall business strategies.

  • Offer some free promotion

As well as your customers’ needs and challenges, hopefully you’ll be well in tune with any big upcoming projects or undertakings on their side. When they start talking about it, make sure you join in the conversation too – whether that be further sharing the announcement across social, or even giving them a little shoutout in your own company newsletter. Let them see that you’re supporting them and praising their achievements.

Perhaps your client is also looking to try and boost awareness of their own company. Are there any joint PR or marketing efforts you could do, might they be a good fit as a panellist for that upcoming webinar or speaker for a virtual event? Going that extra mile can really show how much you care. Not to mention, when it comes to external PR, this is a brilliant opportunity for them to share their story about how great it is working with you.

  • Just say thank you

Two small words can carry a lot of weight and impact – but something so simple can easily be overlooked. Whether this is a message from your CEO shared over email or even a bigger call out over social or in a corporate announcement, highlighting your customers’ great successes in the past year will be greatly appreciated.

Remember, though, especially if you’re going down the route of an individual message, again, personalisation is everything. Nothing can invalidate a thank you more than the realisation that it is a blanket message being sent to everyone on your customer database. Be conscious of the timing these messages are sent and, using those customer insights and feedback gained, craft relevant thank you messages that will truly resonate.  

Every business wants and needs their customers on their side and right now, it is even more important to have those third-party brand ambassadors, building your credibility and your reputation. It’s definitely time to say a little thank you.

Just one parting word of caution, don’t concentrate or adapt your efforts too much on just one or two customers, to the potential detriment of others. At the end of the day, you want to be trying to keep all your customers happy and the more you can build into brand ambassadors, the better.

And if you’d like to see a little bit about how we’ve been helping delight customers and spreading the word, take a look here.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

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