You’ve got your marketing program underway and you’re ready to hire a PR pro who’s made glowing promises of media hits, industry visibility, and a rising personal brand. Yet as the months go on, none of these results materialize. The “pro” can’t tell you where your budget is going or how your business is benefitting. Finally you get fed up and hire a new team – and the first influencer they contact turns cold at the mention of your business. What exactly happened here?

A PR flack happened. If you haven’t heard the term before, here’s the gist: A person in the PR industry who, through sloppy practices, gives the rest of the PR industry a bad name.

We’ve all run into these people. Sometimes they engage in shady behavior; other times they’re just inept or operating under bad information.

Here are six signs for spotting them in the wild – and six tips on hiring a real PR pro.

#1. Empty tactics. The flack goes through the motions of PR, abusing the newswires and pitching reporters without any game plan. Flacks don’t apply strategy to execution; they’re like golf players who swing their clubs without bothering to locate the hole, hitting their balls into a chasm of silence and indifference.

Pro move: The PR pro maps out a strategy for every campaign and connects every tactic to a long-range objective. Smart PR practitioners know it takes skill and practice to get companies heard in a busy digital world, which is why they put thought into every effort.

#2. Shady practices. PR flacks will engage in a number of obnoxious practices, such as spamming reporters with mass pitching tools and using the newswires for SEO purposes. They’ll try to pass off owned content as earned or buy site ads and then ask for a write-up. Not only does this alienate useful contacts and cast a pall over the brands they represent, it makes the entire PR industry look untrustworthy.

Pro move: Experienced PR pros know these tactics can do long-term damage – and that it’s smarter to take the time to build genuine connections with influencers. This is a field that’s all about relationships and reputation; ethical behavior, partnered with smart strategies, always drives better rewards than short-term dodgy tactics.

#3. PR ignorance. You can always tell a flack by their attitude toward PR results. They believe that industry and media trends are fickle and unpredictable, and feel they have no control over results. As such, they are blind to both pitfalls and opportunities until it’s too late.

Pro move: Real pros identify PR trends and use them to their advantage. They look at the past to spot the patterns, apply the numbers and predict the future – then craft strategies that capitalize on these trends. They also create performance benchmarks that tell them what constitutes a hit or a miss, so they can accurately assess and improve their efforts.

#4. Unrealistic goals. The PR flack will often try to please clients and bosses by promising unattainable results. Other times they set goals that sound impressive but won’t really move the needle. Others won’t set goals at all. The result: a disappointed company that can’t connect the PR teams’ efforts to any kind of success, thereby feeling that their money was wasted.

Pro move: Realistic expectations and defined goals are the foundation of a successful PR program. Pros know that one client might prioritize awards and speaking engagements, while another wants an increase in foot traffic in their stores. They outline those deliverables clearly and monitor their progress to ensure they hit their goals.

#5. Vague reports. This is the age of transparency, and all companies want to know just how their PR budget is being used. Yet PR flacks either skip reporting or offer clients an activity list that doesn’t really measure the efficacy of their budget allocation. Eventually the PR flack is asked for solid evidence of their value – which of course they can never produce.

Pro move: Pros are always prepared to prove their value, whether to win more budget or sign new accounts. They communicate clearly with stakeholders, offering detailed reports that explain results, campaign components and resource allocation. As such, they keep relationships on track, avoid surprises, and consistently show how their PR efforts contribute to the organization’s success.

#6. Technical illiteracy. Almost every business operating today is assisted by some kind of tool set to help get the job done. Yet flacks either avoid becoming technically fluent or expect their tech to do the job for them, a recipe for disaster. They are eventually surpassed by their tech-friendly competitors.

Pro move: Pros recognize the competitive advantages the right tech can provide. They also understand the tools are there to help them, not replace their skills and expertise, which means they maximize technical capabilities by partnering them with intelligent strategies.

Maybe you’ve recognized a fellow PR practitioner in one of the above traits. Maybe you’ve even committed a faux pas or two yourself when taking your own stab at this PR stuff. Hey, we were all new once. What matters is that you recognize the difference between real PR and a hack job, so you can position your company for PR success.