Bringing on an external PR agency is an investment of time and budget for any company, no matter its size. Naturally, things will go better for both parties if the agency team gives their all, and the client manages for the best possible outcomes. Several times during a pitch meeting, a prospective client has asked our team, “What do you need from us to succeed?” It’s a great question. There are many answers, from the bare essentials to the ultimate agency wish list. Here are some of ours.
Tell us everything
Every agency engagement should start with a full immersion session, but that’s just the beginning. The best clients share news early and often. One of the more frustrating things to happen on the agency side is hearing about a big development at the last minute, with very little time to plan for the best results. All agency teams appreciate a client who trusts us enough to let us in on even confidential or sensitive moves in advance. There are plenty of other reasons for close communication between client and agency, of course. Information is our currency, and news nuggets or insights from background briefings can turn into valuable story or program ideas.
Make your expectations clear
Clear goals and expectations should be part of the proposal and client-agency agreement. Expectations should cover not only service terms and deliverables, but overall business outcomes over time. Most clients understand that. But circumstances can change over time, and in the rush of day-to-day struggle, they can go unspoken. Should expectations change, or if they’re not being met for any reason, it’s time to speak up.
Measure what matters
Occasionally there’s a mismatch between how a client incentivizes their agencies and the most meaningful business outcomes. To get the best from all agency partners, it pays to reward them based on the metrics that count. It’s fine to calculate hours spent and deliverables completed, but if the most meaningful metrics involve increased brand preference or enhanced reputation, those should be quantified. If more tangible business outcomes like site traffic or sales are most important, they should be prioritized among other PR outcomes.
A qualified agency team will offer unvarnished feedback in important matters of strategy or reputation-building. The relationship must be collegial and cooperative, but no client wants a team that will simply rubber-stamp proposals or take orders. The best clients are prepared to consider honest recommendations and opinions where warranted, and if they’re absent, they should ask why.
Commit the necessary time and resources
Occasionally a company will feel that once the team is in place, their job recedes into the background, and the PR agency will work their magic without much input. That’s not the case; bringing on any agency partner will require increased time and commitment from the company. Even the most capable and motivated team must have a knowledgeable communications professional who is empowered to get them what they need, guide their thinking and set direction for the longer term.
When it comes to large, global organizations who retain equally large and bureaucratic PR agencies, the approvals process can be a nightmare. Lengthy approval times can stifle creativity and miss opportunities. If at all possible, limit the number of individuals who need to sign off on ordinary deliverables like press statements, partner releases, or quarterly plans. Nothing wears down an agency team like multiple layers of approval, constant delays, and a chronic lack of responsiveness from the client. If you can cut the red tape, your agency will love you for it.
Challenge your PR agency
I’ll always remember a client who would exhort us to “be brave, be bold!” in developing new campaign ideas. We knew he expected the best and would go to bat for us to fund bold concepts, and we would have followed him anywhere for that reason. The best agency teams like to be challenged in a constructive and creative way.
Speak up about problems
And encourage the agency team to do the same. Small problems can fester and turn into much larger ones if not nipped in the bud. Some clients don’t like to offer negative feedback because it’s not comfortable. Yet it’s far better to air any issues, however small, when they occur. A professional agency team will understand. If they don’t they’re not the right fit.
Be an internal champion
Even more than marketing or advertising, a PR budget can use an advocate inside the corporation. Public relations has made huge strides in measuring and elevating the impact of the PR investment, but it remains poorly understood in certain companies and sectors. An advocate inside the C-suite who offers a voice to the agency partner is every PR firm’s dream.
Foster collaboration and clarity among agencies
Sometimes companies bring on multiple agencies for engagements that lack clarity, compete with one another, overlap, or operate in isolation when it makes sense for agencies to coordinate. With distinct entities often handling branding, marketing, digital advertising, SEO, and PR, the environment may become complicated. It’s important to establish clear roles that spell out what is expected of each agency and how they should work with the client as well as together.
Respect the agency’s expertise
A good PR team will not always tell you what you want to hear. The most successful clients know and respect that; in fact, they invite it. What’s more, they trust the agency’s professionalism in everyday decisions and recommendations and don’t have the time or the inclination to micromanage or one-up the agency’s role. That’s why we love them.