Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How to Get the Most from Your PR Agency

I've been in a lot of new business meetings lately. I've heard all kinds of stories about dealing with PR and advertising agencies when it came to account management, managing expectations and measuring results. Some are good. The majority are bad and there appears to be a lot of frustration with not knowing how to move forward internally to make sure that history does not repeat itself when it comes to poor or just plain awful account management.

Yes, there are things agencies can do to be accountable and establish strong communication with their clients. But what can clients do to make sure they are getting the most from their agencies?

For what it's worth, here are my thoughts for clients:

Get Organized: Identify a point of contact or contacts that interact with the PR agency on a regular basis. This person needs to understand the company's business goals and objectives, as well as manage priorities and requests as they come in. This person must also understand the internal approval processes and be able to route communication materials (press releases, white papers, videos, etc.) through the proper channels within an organization (corporate communications, marketing, C-Suite, Legal, etc.). This will save time and allow a company to quickly respond to opportunities as they arise.

Whoever is the point of contact for the agency, make sure they are able to cross departments (walk through walls) and get face time with the proper executives, employees and subject matter experts. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard clients say they lost an opportunity because their point of contact was unable to push something through a specific department. Give this person "executive backup" if necessary to ensure opportunities don't fall through the cracks.

Establish Goals: All communications plans should support and help achieve business goals and objectives. Know what the company or department wants to accomplish and share with your agency (this is why NDAs exist). A good PR agency will help evaluate and even create a strategy to help accomplish these objectives.

Define Success: Be open to stating what a successful PR/communication campaign looks like. A good PR agency will tell you if those expectations are reasonable and/or suggest ways to tweak a current strategy to get closer to your definition of success.

Define the success of your communication campaign upfront. It may be frequency of mentions, tone of news coverage, number of qualified leads, increased awareness in key markets, improvement in customer surveys, etc. Define success for YOUR COMPANY. What works as a measurement of success for one company may not work for another. Talk about what success means to YOU. A good PR agency can recommend ways to measure a campaign's success.

Talk to your Agency: Not all sales opportunities come from a sales department. Similarly, not all media or strategic communication opportunities come from your agency. It may come from sales, marketing, recruiters, customers or even your Web site. No matter the entry point of the opportunity, lean on your agency to find out additional information or to help create content or prepare for it. This is our job. As a strategic partner, we want to do everything possible to make you successful.

Demand Reports: Good PR agencies will provide you with regular reports. When selecting an PR agency always ask if they have a formal account management reporting structure in place. A few of the reports you should ask for are written weekly status reports, media pitch reports, monthly account activity reports and media monitoring/analysis/clip reports (if you pay for media monitoring services). Don't settle for just a weekly status phone call. Hold your agency accountable too.

Be Flexible: Not everything can be planned. There will be media opportunities and PR initiatives that "spring up" and a company will have to be reactive. Talk to you PR team on how to best handle these opportunities and make sure you have any crisis or issues management plans in place for any complicated communication issues.

Provide Access: A press release is never just a press release (and if it is, why are you spending the money?) A good PR campaign should support your marketing and sales efforts. Trolling for ink does NOT equal more sales or revenue. A good PR agency will ask to meet with and discuss business goals, products, and services with your executive team, marketing managers, sales representatives and existing customers. In doing so, they will be able to provide you with the best counsel and recommendations on how to move forward to achieve your goals.

PR Pros: What other recommendations do you have for clients to get the most from their agency?

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