If your company has hired an outside PR firm for the first time, you may have gone through an exhaustive search, conducted several meetings, and even done some negotiating before making a decision. So it’s usually a good feeling to finally sign the agency agreement. But what happens then?
On-boarding, that’s what. Many PR agencies have a proprietary immersion and startup process, but even if they don’t, on-boarding is a critical first step in the relationship. How each party handles it can set the tone for a partnership that could take your company to the next level.
The first order of business is immersion into your business by the agency team. We recommend a structure half or full-day meeting that allows for briefings by key department heads relevant to the PR program and goals. The PR team will ideally have a million questions, and a good client will want to be candid in response. We tell clients, if you’re in doubt as to whether to include something in our backgrounding, do it. Too much is never enough! And like a campaign manager digging for skeletons in a politician’s closet, the PR team will also want to know about problems, challenges, and reputation dings, whether public or not. Further, these kick-off meetings are the time when the respective teams get to know the players and determine exactly how they will work together.
Before the letter of agreement is signed, the agency and client should already agree on what general basis PR outcomes will be measured. But they’ll also need to decide on specific metrics for evaluating the PR program so there will be no surprises later. Today more than ever, public relations can get data on a wide array of metrics, so it’s critical to choose the right indicators to avoid wasting time and money. See this earlier post for more on how to measure PR outcomes. Pro tip: make sure you have a baseline for brand awareness and message communication before starting the PR campaign.
Of course one can’t evaluate a fresh PR program without knowing the current state of the client’s visibility. This is where the perception baseline comes in; the PR team will conduct an audit of a brand’s media visibility, including searchable content about brand attributes, customer complaints, reviews, and an all-important analysis of earned media coverage. Depending on goals, an audit of key competitors may also be helpful. Be aware, an objective awareness audit can sometimes hold surprises. A media audit will also inform new messaging and even tactics.
The PR firm will ask for lots of existing marketing and PR documents beyond those it can find on its own, like previous owned and earned content. Additional assets may include proprietary market research, archived announcements, internal communications about business changes, executive speeches and biographies, award entries, and marketing plans. Another important asset is a less tangible one — historical relationships. The PR team will want to know which journalists, analysts and influencers with whom the client has cultivated good (or not-to-good) relations.
All tactical PR planning should be aligned with the company’s marketing efforts. The PR team will want to see previous and current marketing calendars – a key tools for the creation of a new PR plan. As noted in last week’s post on writing the PR plan, the team will use the marketing calendar as a guiding touchstone when crafting the new PR program.
The centerpiece of all these efforts is the PR plan, a draft of which will be presented early on. Pay special attention to the timeline of the plan, taking into account key internal barriers or milestones (like a sales meeting or key conference) and building in time for approvals and changes. Make sure the plan offers enough tactical details so that there will be no surprises around execution times or the budget required. Remember that the best PR plans integrate with other corporate functions, ideally showing how a single initiative can be executed around paid, earned and owned media as well as shared across key social media platforms.
Early on, the PR and client teams will set up the logistics of communication, establishing the day and time for the weekly call or meeting and quarterly check-ins. All the pesky protocols of who, when, and how are implemented before getting down to the daily grind. It’s during this time when it’s good to agree on etiquette and boundaries on both sides – instead of waiting for issues to arise.
Finally, the PR team will set up monitoring and communications tools — shared document and file platforms, messaging, project management and collaboration tools, and other protocols for working together. Depending on the needs of the client, the on-boarding process can last from 3-6 weeks. A smart on-boarding will set the stage for good communication, high productivity, and a long and successful working relationship.