Do you remember your first day of a new job? That feeling of excitement, nervousness, and the awkwardness of meeting your new colleagues as you navigate new surroundings and set out learning as much as you can with the little you have?
Bringing on a new agency can be just like that — for both you and them.
As a founder or in-house marketing/PR director, the agency hiring process is a decision you ultimately make. You’ve heard the pitches, selected the agency you like best, and are ready to get to work. Why then is it that when you start working together, cracks begin to appear?
The best relationships are built on a foundation of mutual respect and trust. When you’re choosing an agency to bring on board, those same principles apply.
Here are 10 tips for clients looking to build a more constructive relationship with their PR agency.
1. Treat the agency like you would your own employees.
You wouldn’t hire a new team member haphazardly, so why would you rush the recruitment process for an agency?
The best agency-client relationships work because the agency is treated like an extension of the internal team. Culture fit, qualifications, and team organization are all considerations you need to weigh during the hiring process. By treating your agency as a valued member of your team, you can better reach your goals together.
2. Trust your agency counsel.
If the agency-client relationship gets off on the wrong foot, it can quickly digress into a manager-subordinate dynamic, where nobody wins. You’ve hired your agency for a reason. They have the relevant experience, have demonstrated their expertise and commitment, and are ready to leap into action. Trust your agency’s counsel and believe in their capabilities.
3. Invest time and effort in the team.
One of the biggest client complaints about agencies is a lack of understanding of their business. However, often this is a symptom of something missing.
To really give agencies the best opportunity to learn your business, you need to invest effort into onboarding. Do they have access to your full bench of spokespeople? Do they have context? Is there a clear understanding of process and sign-off protocol? Do they have historical references to past work and what was learned?
Agencies don’t have the same opportunity as new employees to figure things out through osmosis. The more comprehensive the onboarding, the better equipped your agency will be.
4. Communicate in an organized way.
This statement has never been truer than it is today. Clear and organized communication is as vital to maintaining a healthy working relationship as it is to your outcomes. Over-communicate and you can keep your agency stuck in the weeds. Under-communicate and you keep them in the dark.
There is a better, sweeter spot.
Providing updates in a single, well-structured format ensures everyone’s time is respected. Keep briefs to the point and full of relevant details, including goals, resources and expectations.
5. Manage your expectations.
“How do we get our new website featured in the New York Times?” “When will you get me on the Today show?” These questions are enough to make journalists and PR folk shudder.
If you haven’t taken the time to understand the media landscape, you’re going to find yourself disappointed. Setting realistic expectations is a two-way street in the agency-client relationship. But, as a client, you can help manage your own expectations, too. Be sure to take the time to hear out any pushback to better understand the media environment.
Maybe your PR team actually is incompetent or lazy. Or maybe they actually can’t get you national coverage yet if you’re only in seven states, for example.
6. Commit to decisions.
It can be hard to measure success when the goalposts are constantly changing. In any startup environment, you’re going to pivot as you grow. But change for change’s sake won’t do your goals justice. Public relations can be a long game — especially if you’re a new player. Give the strategy and team room to breathe and a chance to manifest by committing to your decisions and allowing the seeds time to blossom.
7. Take the time to understand what will move the needle.
If your bread and butter is PR, you know what makes a good story. But if you’re an entrepreneur or senior executive from another division, this is likely new terrain. Lean on your agency to learn about the PR landscape and develop a “nose for news.” It will not only better serve your agency relationship, but it’ll also make you a better storyteller.
8. Give them access.
If you’re only giving your agency half of the information, they can only go halfway. Arming your agency with details, data, and access to key spokespeople give the team deeper context. Then your agency will be equipped to tell a stronger story, more authentically able to capture your voice, and more prepared to execute on your goals.
9. Respond in a timely manner.
The very nature of public relations is dictated by deadlines. Journalists work against a fast-paced news cycle, which in today’s digital world is constant, immediate, and high-pressure. Responsiveness can make or break the story. For your PR agency to have the best chance of success, your agency-client relationship needs to be a well-oiled machine, with open communication channels and a mutual understanding across the business of how media relations works.
10. Give and receive direction and feedback.
Feedback should be a two-way street. It’s easy to give feedback to your agency, but are you ready to receive it? Taking the time for both teams to evaluate and feed into how your relationship is working is a great way to measure the effectiveness of your partnership. Look at what’s working and what isn’t, identify communication and knowledge gaps, realign on protocols and set a cadence for future check-ins. Keeping feedback loops open will only make you a stronger team, collectively.
At the end of the day, you want to hire experts you trust. Don’t be afraid to give your PR firm the space it needs to swing some elbows and make strides on your behalf once you provide them with all the assets they need. This is ultimately a partnership you want to cultivate and nurture since it can become a vehicle that takes your brand where you want it to go next.