As distinctions between advertising, marketing, promotion and public relations continue to blur while communications channels multiply, companies seeking public relations representation need to reconsider their role in the client/PR agency relationship.
The best PR results are always the product of a collaborative agency/client relationship. And while the key question that companies seeking counsel ask of business associates is "Do you know a good agency?," once an agency is retained, their next question should be: "How can I be a good client?"
On their side, PR firms can help manage the selection process by devoting adequate resources to researching prospects before deciding to pursue or accept the business. The agency should ask whether the work will be conducive to the agency’s growth, whether the proposed budget is realistic, will client senior executives be involved, and does the company have a good track record working with PR firms.
Prospective clients should not expect a "Hail Mary" creative touchdown, especially in the proposal stage. Prospects that ask PR firms to deliver ideas out of thin air and give them away in the RFP do not understand that creative PR is a process that arises from a partnership of equals and a deep understanding of a client's business.
Once retained, the client must embrace the agency as an extension of its marketing team with collaboration and teamwork of paramount importance. If a client thinks they can outsource their PR and social media without offering much input, you’re looking at an agency/client relationship that is doomed from the outset.
The "good client" understands how collaborative marketing works and will follow these rules of the road.
Clearly define the role of PR
Be clear about the role your PR agency is to play. Will they drive external communications strategy, focus on tactical implementation of your plan or be a hired gun handling specific projects like product launches, trade shows or case studies?
Be a collaborative partner
Too often, the client/agency relationship can become strained, or even adversarial, regardless of the size of the agency or of the account. Effectively partnering with your agency is the best way to position your company against your competition while driving the best possible results from your PR program.
Share, share, share
Treat your agency as an extension of your team, not as a mind reader. Alert them to changes in plans, policies and market direction. Conduct regular Q&A sessions with senior management to help your agency understand the reasoning behind policy decisions. The better your agency understands "why," the more effectively they can tell your company’s story to stakeholders.
Expecting instant gratification from your agency is a setup for failure. Even experienced agencies need time to learn your company, products and industry. It is crucial to invest the time to help your agency understand your company and your business.
Not every announcement warrants a barrage of press follow-ups. Be realistic about the value of company news and expectations of media coverage. If the news is about a new version of a legacy product or a partnership announcement, a full-court press is misguided. Set reasonable expectations. Don’t tell your PR firm they must win five industry awards and garner six glowing product reviews this year. The only answer you should expect is "We’ll do our best."
Make timely payments
When the invoice arrives, please pay it promptly. Obviously, like you, your agency is in business to make money. Make your account profitable for the agency if you expect excellent service.
Manage management expectations
As the client managing the PR firm, always merchandise their successes to senior management. Senior management wants three basic things from their PR agency: good advice, great results and great value.
It's easy to gauge how smart someone is by the questions they ask. Your PR firm will likely approach things differently than you -- but listen to what they have to say. You may not always agree, but consider what they tell you and think through the idea. After all, the flip side of being a good communicator is being a good listener.
Agencies love to hear "Thank you" for a job well done. It brightens one’s day to receive an occasional client email to an agency principal letting them know that a team member really delivered. Certainly one expects clients to be demanding, but it’s important to be appreciative too. As the marketplace becomes ever more competitive and cluttered with "me too" offerings, the PR agency/client relationship only grows in importance as a way of differentiating and elevating one’s market position. So let's shake.