Five Tips to Best Manage PR Agencies
By Priya Ramesh (@newpr)
Time and again, I see journalists, new age marketers bash up on all the foolish things we PR professionals do. When I say “we,” I am not referring to me or my awesome team @CRTTanaka, I am speaking on behalf of all PR agency professionals across the board. Whether it’s copying and pasting the same media pitch without changing the receiver’s name on the email, expecting to get a tweet out of Guy Kawasaki without doing our homework on what Guy truly cares about, we the PR agency pros have made all kinds of mistakes at times in meeting our clients’ PR goals BUT I came from the corporate world to agency life. I can confidently vouch for things that the client can do to better manage their PR agencies and things that the agency can do to better manage client expectations. We are in this together and we (the PR agencies) were hired for a reason and ONLY ONE REASON: to bring you out of the box ideas that meet your goals and to flawlessly execute on those ideas. In most cases, you already have an in-house marketing/communications team; you hired an agency to get more out of your marketing budget so do just that!
After closely watching, listening and personally experiencing how the smart clients get the best out of us and what PR agencies have to do on a daily basis to manage client expectations and deliver results, I have come up with these five tips on how to Manage a PR Agency effectively. Try it and see if you get better results from your PR agency.
1. Be More Strategic and Less Tactical: You are probably looking at me asking, “Seriously? You are telling me there are CMO’s and Chief Communication Officers out there that aren’t strategic?” My response to you is “OH YEAH.” I feel like sometimes it is the PR agency asking all the right strategic questions about their business model to identify a PR strategy that meets those overall business strategy goals. It should be the other way round. You, the client should be sharing your business strategy, your key business goals, your product roadmap on a continuous basis with your PR agency so we can focus our efforts to make your life easier. If you are not strategic, chances are your agency tried asking those questions but gave up somewhere along the way and has become a tactical extension of you. So bring more strategic thinking to your weekly calls with the agency so they can come back to you with strategic PR campaigns.
2. Push for Outcomes versus A Whole Lot of Nothing: This is my biggest complaint with clients who keep sending you work so that monthly retainer is justified BUT there is no specific outcome from all those week days and weekends spent on helping them do exactly what? I constantly ask myself and my team at CRT/tanaka one question on a monthly, quarterly, annual basis: What have we done for this client that they couldn’t already do themselves? When you start thinking in terms of “outcomes,” you are also defining what success looks like for your PR/social media efforts and you also start delegating work to your agency that is more focused on “outcomes.” A lot of clients know how to keep their agencies busy but they don’t necessarily know how to best leverage their agencies to drive results. That’s a big difference. You are lucky if your agency constantly reminds you about KPI’s and metrics instead of saying “yes” to everything you say.
3. Treat Your PR Agency as Your Counsel Not Your Slave: For some reason and may be its just me switching from the corporate side to the agency world, I feel like clients just take a tone towards the agency folks as if we are their slaves or as if we don’t have anything to bring to the table. Two of my close friends who are senior marketers in globally renowned PR agencies just quit their jobs because they got tired of being treated like slaves, expected to return the client’s phone call on their personal mobile phone over weekends and no not related to crisis situations but because the client didn’t have a personal life. There seems to be an assumption that PR agencies are just here to bend over backwards every time the client throws a tantrum and I am sorry, that’s a very unhealthy relationship to have with your agency. You hired them because you saw experience, thought leadership, proven track record so why can’t you treat us with some respect. I personally work great with clients that make you feel like you are a part of their company! They identify the strengths that each agency member brings to the table and leverage their core competencies instead of making them feel horrible about servicing them.
4. Act More like a Green Signal than a Stop Sign: Another big request I have for you as a client, don’t be a bottleneck for your PR agency, make that approval process faster, better and more efficient. Nothing is more frustrating than sitting on a brilliant idea that’s been approved, the budget has the CMO’s blessings BUT due to one key person on the client side not making it a priority to move faster on the approval process. If PR is not important for you then let’s not invest time, energy and budget on it. If it IS important then let’s make it an integral part of your company’s success and your success. Your agency is probably managing three to four different clients at a time and managing multiple deadlines. By quickly responding to their emails, sign-offs etc., help your agency move faster and deliver more for less. A smart client is one that understands how agencies operate and tries to shrink the approval process versus lengthening it even more.
5. Be Open and Receptive to Other Clients’ Successes: Most clients are so busy, crazy and one dimensional in their own world that they forget that their agency is sitting on budgets, campaigns, business models from a variety of other companies. Wouldn’t be great to identify and replicate some of the successes that your agency has accomplished for their other clients? Ask us what we have been up to with our other clients? You never know your next best idea might just come from a discussion with your agency, triggered by that one question.
I hope I have given you a perspective of what it’s like from your agency’s perspective. There is a good reason why PR agencies are still a thriving business. We must be doing something, a lot of things right for our clients. A little of thinking from and learning how to manage us, can go a long way in maximizing your marketing efforts. Good luck and help us (the agency) kick butt for you!