Working with a public relations agency can help public relations professionals amplify and target their efforts more effectively. However, it can often times be a relationship fraught with ups and downs over its lifecycle.
Keeping the relationship – and the results – on an even keel takes work on both parts. The agency needs to understand your organization’s vision and goals and you need to understand the skills, capabilities and strengths of the agency.
Here are a few tips for managing an agency:
1. Do your research. From the beginning, try for the best possible match by researching agencies to ensure they have experience and media contacts in your field, they are the right size for your organization right now and their culture matches yours.
If you have a limited budget, you may want to choose a smaller agency that would not relegate you to the bottom of the client pile based on your budget but may give you more attention due to your potential.
2. Define success. Make sure you have a clear definition of what success would be from the relationship. Know what results you want and communicate that in the RFP process as well as in your agency interviews. It is okay to adjust these based on input with the agency you select – it is a two-way relationship. They may know the business better than you but be clear on what your organization’s expectations are.
3. Plan and measure. Develop a plan in coordination with the agency to reach your definition of success with effective measurement along the way. Have the agency offer advice and ideas on measurement and listen to them if they caution you that your plan may not be taking in real world implications. Develop a process on how to work through lack of performance or conflicts before you begin.
4. Communicate. I know this seems obvious but it often does not happen. Your agency should be kept up to date on your organization, changes in business, focus or new visions and plans that are being developed. The more aware they are of the changing needs of your organization, the better they will be at seeing opportunities and maximizing them for results.
5. Manage effectively. It is critical that someone from your team be assigned to manage the relationship with your involvement through at least the first quarter of the relationship. It is also critical that the agency maintains consistency with their account team and that the relationship between these teams is open with rules established from the beginning on regular engagements. Will there be weekly calls? Will there be regular report-outs on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis? Are there conflict resolutions set up in case the relationship goes off track?
Remember that it is a 50/50 relationship and a two-way communication channel must always be open for the agency to perform well and for you to get the results you and your organization expect. Most important, you must be comfortable with each other, honest and open sharing dialogue on ideas and potential obstacles for the relationship to work. If you are not comfortable picking up the phone and talking to them at any point during your day, you are with the wrong agency.