You’ve just selected a PR firm to add some firepower to your in-house communications team, signed the contract and are ready let the world know about your company. You’ll be on the front page of The Wall Street Journal in no time, right? Not so fast. The most effective client/PR firm relationships are borne out of complete and open two-way communication, mutual planning and goal setting. And perhaps most importantly, active involvement from the C-suite.
Here are five tips to make the most out of your relationship with a PR firm:
1. Include the C-suite: Hiring a PR firm can be among the larger investments many companies make, so why leave the C-suite—those most responsible for the direction and success of your company—out of the process? This is all too common, and many companies put the responsibility of directing the PR firm solely on their in-house communications staff.
This doesn’t mean you need to conduct weekly status calls with your CEO, although some companies prefer and require that much interaction. The primary point of contact with the PR firms should always be a marketing or communications executive, or someone with direct access to the decision makers. However, when it comes to setting strategy, discussing major announcements or dealing with a potential public crisis, it’s imperative to have involvement from the C-suite. Only when they have a seat at the management table can PR agencies provide the most value.
2. Share more information than you think is necessary: At the beginning of any client relationship, I ask for background information. A lot of it. I want to know about my new client’s business model, history, products, services, industry and competitors. I want to know about opportunities and threats. Anything that affects my client’s business directly or indirectly is important for me to understand.
However, I’ve had clients tell me they’ve not provided as much information as they could have, simply because they didn’t want to overwhelm me or my staff. This is the wrong approach: There is no such thing as providing your agency with too much information.
A product overview that might seem straightforward to my client might end up fitting into a story angle we’re pitching. Industry data that might seem too detailed can help me determine where my client fits into a budding trend. Or detailed backgrounds on the company’s executives could help launch a thought leadership campaign.
3. Agree upon objectives and measurement standards: My earlier reference to the front page of The Wall Street Journal provides a good example of mutually developing objectives and standards. That might very well represent the ultimate success for some companies, but may not be useful for others.
At the beginning of an engagement with a PR firm, companies should take an active role in setting objectives and determining what represents success. In other words, don’t send your PR firm out to simply get coverage for the sake of coverage. PR pros with an Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation know that objectives need to be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific. Ensure that all initiatives are focused on results that will reach the audiences that matter most and achieve the desired outcome.
4. Be honest: It may seem odd to even mention this, but I’ve seen instances when PR firms have not been privy to crucial information. Any reputable PR firm should adhere to the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics—whether they are a member of PRSA or not—and should have no reservations about signing confidentiality/nondisclosure agreements.
With that in mind, do not keep information from your PR firm, whether it’s positive or potentially damaging.
5. Ensure that accountability is a two-way street: In order to meet deadlines, your PR firm will need information and/or approvals from you by specific dates. Likewise, the firm should provide deliverables by agreed-upon dates. I will have this to you “at 3 p.m. next Tuesday” is more acceptable than “sometime next week.”
Accountability also means that communications contain accurate information and that any mistakes are corrected in a timely manner. PRN
Chuck Norman, APR, is owner/principal of S&A Cherokee, a full-service communications firm based in Cary, NC. He is a member of the Counselors Academy, a group of senior-level PR counselors, from executives of the leading multinational agencies to independent practitioners within the Public Relations Society of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.