As professionals who regularly work with external partners and vendors we know intuitively that the better we are at managing those relationships, the better the results will be. The challenge, of course, is knowing what steps can we take to make sure the partnership is strong and outcomes successful? Early in the summer we shared some of our thoughts on the topic in What Are the Top Five Questions to Ask When Hiring for Media Relations? More recently, Ryan Greives took a broader perspective in his latest article “9 Tips for Working with a PR Agency” in PR Daily.
Every relationship is different and many organizations struggle to work effectively with PR agencies as they simply don’t know how to set up the relationship for success. Here are Ryan’s nine tips for working effectively with public relations firms.
- Be straightforward, ask how you can have the best partnership and what you can do to support their work. It seems like the easiest and most obvious question to ask, but it is actually often ignored. By talking about this at the start of a relationship, and asking what they need to do their best work on your account, you are minimizing chance for surprises later. You are paying them – so why not supporting them as best as you can so the work produced meets your needs? Or as Greives puts it: “It’s like buying a brand new car. It can get you to where you want to go, but if you never take the time to fill up with gas or change the oil every 3,000 miles, you might as well start walking.”
- Have a good service or product. Point out the extraordinary features of your product. Don’t make assumptions about what they know, but rather, share all relevant information to help them truly understand your brand. Go beyond facts and talk about benefits and unique insights that might not be widely known. Communicate what gets you and your team excited. Your agency can provide a unique, unbiased perspective that can help you further strengthen your messages.
- Communicate. While this may seem obvious to “communicators”, but ongoing communication between client and agency has to be maintained throughout the whole project. Every project should start with a meeting/call and goals as well as expectations need to be fixed early. Again, assumptions can be dangerous. Grieves suggests sharing all upcoming events that touch the product or service directly or indirectly from upcoming product announcements, new company hires or partnerships, to upcoming events or tradeshows and interesting industry happenings. And when priorities shift or events change, it’s critical to keep the agency updated.
- Feedback. Hand in hand with ongoing communication is feedback. Providing sales updates, website metrics, customer feedback or any data that will help the agency quickly refine strategy and tactics is going to help make sure goals are achieved. Also, every once in a while offering a “thanks” or “good job” is great for ongoing morale – don’t you agree?
- Understand that the agency is the expert. Give them the benefit of the doubt. You hired the PR agency for their expertise and track record and sometimes companies need to be reminded to give them the benefit of doubt and trust them. They know what they are doing and they’ll do their very best for the money you pay them. Feedback and suggestions are great, but a trusting partnership relationship is important too.
- Be accessible. PR, we know, is fast paced and sometimes the agency can’t move on a story or implement some important activity until they reach a decision maker in your organization. In this day of 24/7 connection, make sure you, or an empowered back-up is accessible at all times, within reason. PR is unpredictable and in this age of 24/7 news, if you don’t respond in a timely fashion, you could miss a key opportunity or, worse.
- It’s not all about being the feature story. Unless your company belongs to one of the top five companies in the world right now such as Apple or Microsoft every media coverage is an achievement – even if it’s just the company/product roundup and second-tier media coverage. It’s better to be mentioned among competitors than not being included at all! And it’s about relevance too. A press hit might be in a smaller publication, but if it widely read and respected by the target, it’s a success. Help the agency understand what defines success and in turn, help your organization with context to understand what’s been achieved.
- Know what PR is about. Again, like the point above, it’s about being an effective middle man. Recognize and remind yourself and your organization that unlike advertising, in PR you can’t completely control the timing or content of coverage. It’s up to PR agencies, with the strong support of clients, to do the best job informing, encouraging and trying to influence coverage for the benefit of the organization.
- The PR agency is on your side. Never forget that the company you hired wants the best media coverage just as much as you do. They will lose you as a client, and risk their reputation if they do a bad job – that’s a great motivation in itself!
Summing up, to keep in mind some of these tips will make your partnership with any PR agency a lot easier and rewarding. And while many of these points might seem quite obvious to veteran communicators, that’s likely not the case with more junior staff who are also working with external agencies. Clear communications and mutually understood expectations, connected with trust ultimately lead to a great partnership and eventually to project success for all involved.