PR Insider: 5 Tips for Working with a PR Agency

Sandra Coyle
Sandra Coyle

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.

Sandra Coyle is the Founder of Coyle Communications, a communications advisory firm based in Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter @coylecomms or her blog at

  • Megan King

    I would add – be upfront with budgets. “I need to see what it costs.” or “it depends on the program.” is just an indicator of your not having access to budget, withholding information (see 4 above) or not really being ready for an agency. We develop better solutions if we understand all the parameters. Plus, in an RFP it actually allows you to judge the merits of the ideas and the value of the work for the money since all will be the same price.

  • Ted Birkhahn

    Sandra – great points made in this article. Our longest standing client relationships are ones in which the agency is treated as an extension of the in-house communications team — rather than as a vendor. This shared approach works much better for both parties in the long run.

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  • j1aja2

    In my 50 years in PR … now retired … the most important thing I looked for in a client was for him/her to have doable expectations. The ABC Widget company in a suburb of Des Moines cannot reasonably expect to be in the New York Times unless it is truly unique. However, it can reasonably expect to be in the Des Moines Register if it has any kind of story to tell. The Register is likely doable; the Times is likely not-doable and the client should have reasonable expectations of what can be done. Unfortunately, a lot of companies do not have doable expectations and a lot of PR people take their money knowing that it can’t be done.

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  • Sandra Coyle

    I agree, having a realistic budget and expectations are very important for establishing a firm foundation with your pr agency. Many organizations have unrealistic expectations of their agencies which stems from unrealistic assessments of their brands and their overall import and influence in their industry. I encourage everyone to be as transparent as possible from the beginning.