What Clients Should Expect From A PR Agency

There’s exhilaration every time a public relations firm enters into an agreement with a new engagement. And we’ve written about what agencies need from their client partners in order to be successful. In this post we’re looking at what clients should expect from their PR firm to ensure a productive and long-lived relationship.

Beyond The LOA

The chief parameters of the client-agency relationship are covered in the letter of agreement, and planning documents will further outline expectations. Both client and agency will agree on key performance indicators (KPIs) and measurement tools. But there’s also a human side to relationship management. Ask yourself the questions below to see if your agency is focused on the less tangible aspects of the PR partnership.

Has the agency maintained staffing as promised?

Presumably your account is being serviced by the same competent, experienced team who pitched your business. If changes have occurred, the key players should have have stayed the same, ensuring consistent communication and work. Every agency experiences turnover at times, but frequent staff changes are a red flag. Any concerns should be taken to the top, so that the agency or group head can course-correct before the damage is fatal. Of course, the same applies if a client is seeking to change up team members; clear communication can be the key to a successful swap.

Does your firm respect your time?

Calling PR a fast-moving field is an understatement, and a key aspect of building a strong relationship is respecting client time. This includes a “cardinal rule” never to ask a client a question that the agency team should know the answer to (or at the very least, where to find it). Basically, your agency partner should never waste your time. We schedule weekly calls that are under thirty minutes with tight agendas, and, with rare exceptions, take place exactly when scheduled each week. You don’t want a partner that is late to the call every week or constantly asks to switch days and times. Stuff happens, but one of the best ways to build and keep trust in a PR partnership is to be consistent and reliable, and that goes for both sides.

Does your agency partner meet and exceed expectations?

Sometimes this means spending extra time vetting an idea or presenting an abundance of research ahead of implementation. It’s part of the basic “client bill of rights” to gain the most thorough understanding of a project’s deliverables, budget, timing and anticipated outcomes before signing off. This is in addition to the obvious agency habits that should be ubiquitous: quick response to any email or call, attending to any weekend or evening work that will move a project forward or mitigate a crisis, and regularly creating and seizing PR opportunities that aren’t in the plan. There are personal touches as well. If a client mentions that he’s dying to try an exclusive new restaurant, or wants a fresh idea for a personal charity, a good agency team will try to make it happen.

How keen is your agency’s attention to detail?

We may live in a world full of texting errors and sloppy online journalism, but that’s no excuse for a professional PR team to slack off. In a world of social media magnification and news “trust” issues, it’s up to the agency to maintain a high bar and pay meticulous attention to all correspondence and documentation. Some good, basic proofreading tips for both sides of the partnership include setting aside some work and rereading after a break; reading a piece aloud (guarantee you will find something to improve or correct!) or even printing out a hard copy – the difference in format can be valuable to helping you edit. But it all comes down to one thing — attention to detail.

Is your agency partner a competent steward of your funds?

Is your agency team mindful of travel expenses, bringing only the team members who matter most? Do they offer honest advice on new expenditures like a third-party spokesperson or even a newswire distribution cost? Any recommendation for additional spend should come with a strong rationale and clear calculation of anticipated outcomes.

Does your agency function as an extension of your staff?

An agency partner should “speak your language,” striving to know your business so thoroughly that it adopts the brand voice in creating content, responding to reporter queries, or crafting a creative presentation for senior management. At a global meeting of our international agency partners, Coca- Cola’s Scott Williamson articulated this well. “I want materials that could have been prepared in house,” is how he put it.

And it may seem obvious, but the agency team should be true consumers of their clients’ products and services. There’s no substitute for hands-on experience.

PR Tips On Being Quoted In The Media

As public relations professionals know, there are many different types of media interviews. Some are features based on in-depth contact with company representatives. Others involve a chance to comment about a breaking news story or issue. In the latter case, we sometimes experience disappointment. We work to generate a quick opportunity for a client or colleague, only to have it fizzle when the finished story fails to include their remarks.

How can we avoid the heartbreak of ending on the cutting room floor – figuratively speaking? Here are our best tips for getting quoted in a media interview, and staying in the picture.

Be accessible

Yes, I know you’re busy and important and you don’t want to seem too eager or available. But today’s reporters work against hourly deadlines, and sometimes the first three people who return their calls and have something noteworthy to say are the ones who make it into the story. So if an interview opportunity is important, you’ll need to make an effort to be available on short notice.

Don’t wing it

Even casual conversations about a breaking news event require a bit of preparation, which is hard to fit in if you’re making yourself accessible with little notice. But unless you know the subject matter cold (or it’s a background interview not intended for publication), it pays to invest some quick preparation time to develop concise, memorable quotes and well-informed, affirmative opinions. Reporters don’t want a mealy-mouthed interview, and they don’t have time to tell you what everyone else has said. They want something they can use to bracket the story or illustrate a key point about its impact.

Use colorful language

One of the most powerful things you can do in a media interview is use a visual metaphor. I was taught this by media and leadership coach Don Rheem, and it has proven true. A visual image almost always sticks in the mind – and stays in the final story. Don’t just refer to the congressional investigation; condemn it as a “political strip search.” Don’t spend precious seconds explaining why the bridge repair is hard; instead, call it the city’s “open-heart surgery.” In adtech, we advised a client to criticize the opaque or “black-box” solutions of competitors and brag about its own “glass box” technology. Each evokes a mental image and is far more likely to be used by a journalist or producer and remembered by readers or viewers.

Be declarative

I often get calls from journalists wanting a quick opinion about a company in a crisis situation. These can be difficult opportunities, because most crises are complicated, and in the real world, PR and reputation advice may be very nuanced. But I’ve learned to segue to more generalized advice or insights to be simpler and more declarative in these conversations. To be quotable, you must have an opinion. It helps to be clear and affirmative. If there’s no good advice to share, a vivid description of the dilemma can also work. Think about analogies to unrelated activities, like bronco-riding or surfing, for example.

Be surprising

If that opinion legitimately runs counter to the prevailing wisdom, so much the better. Just be prepared to explain the point of view being expressed or to offer evidence to support it. Or make a bold prediction about the future. Even if your opinion isn’t completely contrarian, point out what is missing or overlooked in the public conversation. Media love conflict.

Be helpful

Another way  to score in a media interview is to offer something of value. Occasionally clients worry that they’ll give away insights that their customers pay for, or that they may tip their hand to competitors. That’s unlikely in a short interview, and if you sound smart and authoritative, people will seek you out. Look to offer advice based on expertise, practical tips, little-known “secrets,” or expert observations.

Don’t ramble

Write down two or three relevant points that you want to make, and stick to them. Offer succinct examples or statistics as support, but don’t tell lengthy anecdotes unless invited to by the reporter. Most of all,  don’t try to test the reporter’s reaction to your responses by rambling from one assertion to another. Start with a “headline” comment and back it up succinctly, referencing your own authority or experience.

6 Smart Tips For Q4 PR Planning

Yes, we know it’s actually still summer, but in public relations, getting a jump on the fourth quarter is suddenly top-of-mind. Every year we look for smart new ways to streamline systems or simply do PR better. What follows is a compilation of proven tips to try as you ease into autumn.

Transition to the busy fall PR season

Typically fall is an extremely busy season for PR teams – packed with holidays and other occasions just begging for story ideas and campaign events. But before you panic, take a deep breath and a good look at the following ways to rock your PR output as the leaves turn and the temperatures drop.

Take stock of current agency work
If the end of the summer saw a slowdown, you’ll want to be back with a vengeance. Now is the time to revisit original objectives and make sure communications teams are on target. For example, take a look back at the last quarter and evaluate the effort against metrics and results for the last new product launch or funding announcement.  Work with your agency to make sure both teams are on track as well to re-invigorate for the upcoming race to the end of the year. If you’re considering changing or adding a new firm, have you issued any RFPs that are unresolved? No one wants to be that company who  “ghosts” PR firms after receiving a proposal – a topic tackled here recently.

Audit your internal staffing needs
Now is the time to look at who is working on what and determine if you have the best fit for each company marketing and PR initiative. If you haven’t already conducted a recent review or more casual check-in with your team members, start there and get a good assessment of what’s working well and what’s not. Look for signs staffers are burned out or looking for change and see if you can make some substantive alterations. Now is also the time to look at staff planning and start to forecast your 2018 goals and needs (see below.) Take some practical steps like making sure your company LinkedIn profile is up to snuff and well-written job descriptions and ads are at your fingertips.

Reconsider the weekly agency status meeting
Many companies and PR firms have done away with formal weekly meetings in favor of bi-weekly meetings or smart use of inter-office comms tools like Slack or HipChat to keep internal and external teams apprised of ongoing projects, new business opps and other workflow topics. You may also want to reconsider the weekly meeting when you read this Harvard Business School take on what meetings actually cost. We advise a short meeting with a “real-time” editable agenda ala Google Docs or other format to make sure all parties are in the know and on top of deadlines and deliverables.

Take stock of your tech
Obviously, you’re not going to replace desktops and the like every year, but it does pay to take stock and replace devices or software that may be outmoded or hampering productivity.  It’s also a good time to see about investing in upgraded graphics or video editing software, if that is where your work is taking you. Maybe standing desks? Or no desks at all! Fall offers a good opportunity to freshen the workspace and eliminate clutter, or other things… like your landlines? Many predict the land-based phone will follow the Rolodex and other office relics as in this clever video showing the evolution of the modern office.

Plan some fun stuff
Fall is full of reasons to celebrate – Halloween, football season and the return of  Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” for starters. It’s also a time to bond with co-workers and agency personnel and do some OOO activities that will strengthen relationships and help teams work better together. In addition to simple things like dressing up for Halloween (we are into that, as you can see here) try some truly creative ideas catering specifically to your crew. We suggest an epic lip-sync battle a la Jimmy Fallon, or if your group is on the shy side, volunteering for a charity of your choice (consider an activity to benefit Harvey survivors, for instance.) Whether it’s a trivia competition , cooking class or wine tasting, just be sure to get all team members involved and enjoy the benefits that accrue from participating together.

Look toward 2018
Ask some important questions. What new products or innovations does your company have in the works? Which work is contracted into the next year? Are your 2018 agency contracts current? What are the economic trends, and how will they play into your forecasting and planning? What other factors may impact the brand’s goals in the next four months? Ask and answer these questions thoughtfully – but don’t take too long. The calendar may say September, but PR strategists know to be thinking about – and planning for – the future at all times.