A relationship with a public relations agency can be a little like a marriage. It starts with a spark, yet like any partnership, it can change over time. Take a look on Quora, or talk to someone who has worked with many different PR agencies, and you’re likely to hear about a range of experiences, from highly productive to sorely disappointing.
As with any professional services business, the burden is on the agency to offer consistently high service levels and produce agreed-upon outcomes. But the client’s participation is also a key factor. In the ideal world, the individual who manages the PR firm is a trained communications professional with a deep understanding of public relations. Yet this isn’t always possible, particularly with an early-state company or an organization in transition.
In the past few years, we’ve reported to a lawyer-turned-retail-company COO (with amazing publicity instincts); a style entrepreneur who always took our lead; and a marketing MBA who struggled to understand why sales promotions weren’t mediaworthy.
No two client-agency relationships are the same, but here are some “secrets” of our most successful clients to getting the best from a PR team.
Ask what they need. It sounds obvious, but the specific needs and workstyle of an agency team can be lost in a mountain of onboarding powerpoint decks and product briefings. A candid conversation about their needs will also give your PR team the sense that they have a voice in setting expectations and the degree of access that they’ll have, which often impacts outcomes.
Offer access. This is likely at the top of the agency’s list. Access – to plans, corporate history, sales meetings, senior management’s POV – will not only help the agency represent the organization, but it will inevitably save time over the long run and possibly enhance earned media outcomes. PR hates an information vacuum, and agency teams prize access to client executives in order to do our job.
Share your expectations. The more specific, the better. This conversation should be about how the client defines success, but it should also cover service levels, responsiveness, face-to-face communication, internal assessment of outcomes, and other aspects of collaboration that enhance productivity.
Communicate regularly. As noted, most agency teams get a thorough information dump at the start of a relationship; we have a checklist of detailed information as part of our onboarding process that helps get our team off to a strong start. But things can change over time. It’s absolutely critical to involve the agency in appropriate meetings with partner agencies, product launch plans, touch-base meetings with new executives whose roles are relevant to PR, and important internal announcements, just to name a few.
Tie PR to business goals. Most PR agency teams have a hunger to know how earned media and other outcomes actually impact their client’s business. A client contact who regularly shares analytics, feedback from senior executives, sales trends, and other information that supports the value of the PR investment will not only help himself internally, but he will win the undying loyalty of the PR team.
Nip problems early. Some well-meaning client executives let issues simmer or worse because they fear a confrontation, or perhaps the agency team doesn’t seem receptive to feedback. But early course-corrections – well articulated and supported in writing – have saved many a relationship.
Celebrate success. The pace of communications is often frantic, and it’s easy to take positive outcomes for granted, or to move on to the next thing. A note of congratulations, a simple thank-you for an individual contribution to the team, or a celebratory lunch can be amazing morale-boosters that refresh the relationship, and the team’s motivation, for the next challenge.