Working With an Agency
Even in an uncertain economy, start-ups and other emerging companies need
public relations support to communicate their news. Finding the right
agency for your needs is important, but the challenge in conducting a
successful PR program does not end merely because you've hired a new agency.
Here is some advice for people in organizations that have never worked
with a PR agency before.
1. Check references and chemistry.
A track record of success is important, but every agency has something
it can point to. Make sure their successes are current. Client-agency
chemistry is an important, but often overlooked, factor contributing to
a program's success. When making a decision, remember these are they people
you will be working with: do you like and trust them? If you feel like
their main interest is in selling you more services than you need, you
won't feel comfortable and are less likely to succeed.
2. Identify the main daily contact
at your agency and within your own organization.
Generally it's not the most senior person you met during the pitch. Just
as important, however, identify the main internal contact at your company.
This person is critical for the program's success by providing insight
into the company, tracking down customer leads, and getting approval far
faster and more easily than someone on the outside.
3. Ask the senior agency executive
how to work best together, most efficiently.
It's not that you need to change the way you work to suit the agency.
But they might have some best practices about how to work smarter with
them and get more value from the relationship. At a basic level, telephone
conference calls or videoconferences may be less personal but more cost-effective
than having your agency travel to your offices since agencies typically
charge by the hour.
4. Ask your agency to provide you
with PR 101
if you are unsure or uncomfortable with your new assignment, ask your
agency to present a PR 101 session. Another suggestion: invite senior
management to the PR 101 session so that everyone has the same expectations.
The PR 101 session can be conducted up front before the planning
so you can understand what's appropriate, realistic and strategic.
5. Keep an open channel to the
CEO and have him/her kick off the program.
Make sure you understand the CEO's business goals and current positioning
driving the company to hire its first agency. In addition, you'll want
the CEO to kick off the program so you get buy-in from others who have
information that can help develop good story angles. This will help minimize
the likelihood that others within your organization, who don't see PR
as part of their job, stall on getting information to you.
6. Update or formalize your company's
positioning before developing your PR plan.
Otherwise, you won't be able to establish communication priorities that
map to management's business goals. You also don't want to communicate
corporate messages that are no longer relevant or are half-baked. It can
be tempting to try to swing at everything, but chances are you might have
limiting funding and resources, so it's critical to prioritize to be effective.
7. Assess all your communications
and marketing materials.
Assess all your communications and marketing materials. This includes
Website, press kit, sales collateral, advertising, trade show and other
signage, stationery, and direct marketing. Evaluate whether they consistently
communicate the same message. If you don't have one, develop a style guide
to be distributed to all marketing personnel. Websites are often the first
place reporters turn to when checking out a company, but many corporate
websites are inconsistent, not updated on a timely basis, hard to navigate
and don't provide easy mechanisms for contacting the company.
communications goals and objectives.
Make sure to set aside budget to measure the program. Many clients choose
not to, but by establishing benchmarks, and ideally by exceeding them,
you can demonstrate the program's ROI to senior management.
9. Coordinate with other departments
Public Relations should coordinate messages and information with other
advertising, investor relations, human resources as well as other divisions.
That consistency will make your company's messages more effective because
they will be repeated. And it ensures that other parts of the organization
are aware of what you're doing and vice versa; they may even forward information
that you can use to develop compelling news.
10. Be a communications counselor
for your company.
Don't just focus on tactics, think big picture, across divisions. How
does the development in one area of the company impact another area? Is
there a bigger story here?
11. Make sure your agency acts
as your communications partner.
A good agency can help by bringing in perspectives outside your company
because they don't drink the Kool-aide. Their objectivity is useful in
determining whether something is newsworthy or just something good for
the company. (For example, one former client told us their new software
kernal was significant news; when we talked with the product manager,
he confirmed the development was significant because it enabled
to company to catch up with its competitors.) Your agency should be able
to monitor trends that directly affect your company as well as larger
trends being played out in the business media. As a communications partner,
the agency can counsel you on strategies not just tactics
that will help you meet your goals.
12. Understand your agency's invoices
and billing policies.
Most agencies hate surprising their clients as much as clients hate getting
surprised by an unexpectedly large and complicated invoice. Make sure
your agency explains its policies so that you can plan accordingly as
well as who can resolve billing problems it's often not your daily
contact. At the same time, you should explain your company's accounting
policies: do you need a P.O.? What do they need to do to ensure your accounts
payable will quickly approve payment?