Good Behavior is Good Business
Here’s the truth: collaborative, respectful partnerships generate the most impactful results. When the relationship between a PR agency and a client is mutually considerate, stress levels run lower, communication is more open and efficient, and the results are usually superior.
Focus on value — not dollars and cents
As I tell many potential clients, you can find a cheaper or a pricier deal elsewhere. The question is whether you can find a partnership that delivers the same or better value. The answer to this tends not to be in the monthly retainer but in the level of experience and resources being deployed to your account. Experienced professionals can add a lot of value quickly, but you pay for this expertise. Decide whether your needs and demands require a more sophisticated and strategic approach, or whether you are mainly outsourcing a heavy workload. Then make a cost/benefit analysis – but make it based on the ideal of a long-term relationship. Changing agency mid-stream is disruptive, time-consuming and costly.
Manage your expectations
Agencies are not staffed by superheroes. If you look around your office, you’ll notice a mixture of talent and experience. It’s like that in our industry. Using an agency gets you some important benefits, in particular freeing up bandwidth and providing you informed access to the media, thought leadership, sharper branding, more impactful messaging, and well-run events. Good agencies provide strategic support and build reputations. But be realistic. The client and the agency need to agree on the right metrics, both quantitative and qualitative, that meet their business objectives. Most firms cringe when clients expect revenue increases or a profile in the New York Times in the first month of engagement. And if they don’t, you should be worried!
Make your demands clear and reasonable
At the start of the engagement, the agency and client should establish the scope of work and priorities for the extent of the agreed contract. If you flood the agency with multiple demands that are outside the agreed scope of work, there are three possible scenarios that will happen: 1. Priority assignments will take a back seat, 2. there will be a demand for a retainer increase, or 3. if the retainer is based on assigned hours, you will run out of agency time before the end of the month to complete the initial projects. It’s often best to limit demands to a few, strategic objectives that are easily measurable.
Communicate with your agency
It’s not reasonable to expect your agency to work on instinct: it is important to be clear and decisive in how to communicate your needs. An up-front discussion on the goal of a particular project may take 15-30 minutes, but it ends up being more efficient than numerous iterations of a project based on limited or uneven input. Regular meetings, as long as they are kept short and to the point, help the agency to work efficiently and provide successful results that meet your overall goals. Maximizing the amount of productive hours on your account is the best way to ensure value for money.
By definition, agencies have a number of clients. They need to carefully weigh time allocated to accounts to be profitable. Successful firms are the ones you want to partner with, so make sure you don’t waste their time, as they shouldn’t yours. In particular, try not to cancel or postpone meetings except when absolutely necessary. Repeatedly nixing meetings is frustrating to agencies that are simply looking for direction to best help you succeed in growing your business. After a while, they’ll start canceling on you, because they can’t afford to repeatedly waste the 30 or 60 minutes set aside for your call.
Remember, it’s an agreement
The contract between a client and a PR agency is an agreement between two parties. A good agreement is just that – it balances the efforts and rewards needed to ensure that both sides win. If you treat your agency well, they will be motivated to provide you their best work. That’s human nature.
If you’re a good client, the agency naturally works harder for you and a more effective partnership develops. This, in turn, generates the best possible results for your firm – it’s simply a smart business decision.