Successful public relations campaigns are a two-way street—for the public relations firm to deliver results, the client must invest adequate time and resources, provide information about their business activities, and make themselves available for content reviews or interviews.
And while clients are constantly—both consciously and unconsciously—grading their agency’s performance, shouldn’t the PR firm likewise gauge their performance as partners?
Let’s review how clients should behave to get A’s.
Client Management Team
Who owns the PR program? Are client-side senior executives involved, or has the relationship been delegated downstream to middle, or junior, management to supervise? Count the number of client executives involved in the PR process, note their rank and level of involvement…then grade.
Does the client expect a ‘Hail Mary’ publicity touchdown in the first quarter of a campaign? Clients that expect PR firms to deliver day one do not understand that PR is a process that requires a partnership of equals and a solid understanding of the client’s business. Has the client bought into a realistic timetable for implementation? If so, grade up. If the client behaves as if they can outsource their PR without offering much input, grade down.
Defining the Agency’s Role
Is the client clear about the role the PR agency plays or do the goal posts unexpectedly shift and new demands arise mid-game? Without a clear mandate, get it signed off in writing, with appropriate performance milestones; any level of success can be belittled. Does everyone on the client team understand, and buy into, the PR program goals and process or is the agency seen as a hired gun assigned to handle specific project details? Good grades go to clients who champion the PR effort and communicate the process and goals internally.
Too often, the client / agency relationship can become strained, or even adversarial, if the agency becomes starved for content ‘food.’ How well your client partners with your account team provides a convenient gauge of the prospects for success. Does the client maintain the meeting schedule, prepare the necessary background materials when expected, make company executives and specialists available to contribute, give your content the attention it requires, or is the PR firm sitting in the bleachers rather than the C-suite conference room?
The Patience Factor
Expecting instant gratification from your agency is a setup for failure. Even experienced agencies require some learning curve to properly understand your company, product advantages and industry. It is crucial that as the client you invest the time to help the agency understand your business, seasonality and timely issues. If it’s all hurry up and what have you done for me lately… it’s time to fire off a warning flare.
Not every business announcement warrants headlines. How realistic is the client regarding the publicity potential of basic company news? So they understand the news cycle, scheduling timetables, role of exclusives, etc. Or does the client expect to win five industry awards and garner dozens of glowing reviews this year? Grade accordingly.
Does the client responsible for managing the PR firm merchandise their successes to senior management? Embedding the strategy within the client company’s culture is a crucial intangible. Senior management wants three basic things from their PR agency: Insightful advice, great results and good value. But do they champion the program internally? Review the communications vehicles that promote your work to employees.
It’s easy to gauge how knowledgeable someone is by the questions, “Does the client team listen closely to what account people say?” or “They may not always agree but does the client think through your ideas or knee-jerk decision-making?” Gauge how long it takes to receive responses to your queries, comments and approvals on proposed actions, and reviews of requested materials. Time is money… assign a grade.
Are agency invoices paid within the agreed-upon timetable or does the cycle keep expanding, requiring numerous follow-ups? How promptly you are paid is a good indication of whether the agency’s star is ascending or…?
A Thank You
And finally, agencies appreciate a “Thank you” for a job well done. The occasional client email to an agency principal letting them know that the team really delivered demonstrates an understanding of the often-nebulous world of public relations and the value PR can deliver. Count the emails and notes to assign a grade.
As the marketplace becomes ever more competitive, the PR agency / client relationship grows in importance as a way of differentiating and elevating one’s market position. Both sides earn the grades they deserve.