A poor economy can test even the best and most productive client/agency relationship.
For many businesses, a PR consultant or an agency commitment is a large investment, and one that’s increasingly under pressure to deliver against business and communications goals.
How, then, can you make your relationship as efficient and fruitful as possible?
Here are nine tips:
1. Commit the time. Maybe you thought having a PR firm would actually save you time, but it’s not that simple. A colleague told me about a boutique PR duo who included a two-way time commitment in their client contracts. They would agree to spend the requisite hours only if the client did the same. Partly as a result, they were able to draw great things out of the client and translate them into powerful visibility. The lesson: Your team is only as good as the information and access it’s given.
2. Communicate your goals and expectations. Everyone knows to do this, but beware of “expectations creep.” Your firm should make clear and written goals the priority, but it’s important to update or clarify them when priorities or expectations change.
3. Challenge your PR team. I had a client who, when giving us creative direction, would constantly urge us to challenge ourselves. His catch phrase was, “Be bold; be brave.” He wanted big, risky ideas, and he got them.
4. Respect their time. Many firms bill hourly, which is a great incentive to use their time well. But even if your team works on a flat fee basis, and you know they’ll eat the extra hours at month’s end, don’t abuse it because you may end up with a burned-out group.
5. Ask for feedback. Media relations are no longer a one-way street. Your PR reps should be communicating with you about your brand’s reputation among customers, media, stakeholders, and even employees. Part of an outside PR firm’s value is its relative objectivity. So why not use it?
6. Be transparent. As much as possible, communicate your company’s business goals, not just the communications aims, to your PR team. The more they know, the more they can help you reach them.
7. Manage expectations internally. Poor management of expectations is probably the single biggest reason that client-agency relationships fail. A good firm will try to manage yours, but when senior executives have a different set of expectations, everyone looks bad.
8. Give credit. When you find those praiseworthy positives, make sure to include the rank-and-file team members who may not have a lot of face time with clients. Publicly sharing credit throughout the organization reflects as positively on you as it does on your agency.
9. Be a partner. Yes, we throw that word around a lot in the agency business, but ultimately it means that the relationship goes beyond a transactional one. It means you expect more from your firm than order-taking; you get ideas, solutions, and even pushback when warranted. Finally, it means that the relationship is based on the mutual respect shared by players on the same high-performing team.