If an agency search is like dating, then selecting the right PR partner is almost akin to popping the question. And the emotions can be similar, — anticipation, high expectations, even euphoria. The prospective agency checks out when it comes to your key criteria, and you seem to have chemistry. What more do you need to determine if this relationship is built to last?
Like romantic duos, agency-client relationships can benefit from a clear-eyed assessment and hard questions on both sides. I’m not talking about the standard queries about relevant experience, account team composition, or budgets. It’s more about the questions that determine if your workstyles mesh and how well suited you are for one another. Here are a few of our favorites.
Why do you want to work with us? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, of course, but the response can reveal a lot. Clients should look for a genuine interest in their company or category, and a high motivation to succeed. The question can also give you a sense for how the agency tells its own story.
Tell me about the last client who fired you. This is an awkward request, and the answer may have little or nothing to do with the agency’s work, professionalism, or track record. But how they respond could tell you about their transparency and attitude towards client relationships. Look for an honest answer, not the agency equivalent of “My biggest fault is that I work too hard.”
What do you need from us? This is a terrific question, because it acknowledges that a successful client-agency team is a real partnership, and it signals an astute client. There are actually some companies who think that bringing on an agency will lighten their workload, which is the opposite of what will happen.
What did you think of our product launch/announcement/campaign last year? This is tricky, and answers can vary from flattery, to constructive feedback, to a discussion that seeks more information. All are legitimate, of course, but the ideal response should tell you if they’ve done their homework. You’re looking to elicit critical thinking and testing for an honest response.
Is our budget enough to get the job done? This may seem like a “gimme” or invitation for the agency to increase the fee, but what you’re really after is a sense of challenges and your status. Make no mistake, your fee is directly tied to time allocated to your account, so the agency’s perspective is helpful.
What do you see as your biggest challenge? This is a more direct way to get at the challenge question. Although a good PR team will be straightforward in assessing the mission, it’s not a bad idea to probe for things beneath the surface.
How do you define success? This one’s part of most RFPs, and clients do typically focus on it. But success can go beyond publicity outcomes and even business goals, and the objective here is to see how the PR team looks at and frames a successful relationship over the long term.