How to Be a Good Client for Your PR Agency

By Mara Conklin

Public relations is one of the most cost-effective marketing tactics available today, which explains why many companies are increasing their PR spend while cutting back on their ad budgets. Once a public relations firm is hired, it’s important for internal marketing managers to realize the crucial role they play in the success of their agencies. So how can you be a good client for your PR agency?

1. Treat your PR agency as a partner. To ensure the success of your PR program, you must view your agency as a business partner, not simply a vendor-for-hire. This includes giving your PR agency reps a seat at the table during important meetings and trusting their counsel when it’s given. Think of them as an extension of their staff. And, as an external organization, your agency can provide a perspective that may not be available internally, so listen carefully.

2. Give your agency access to information as early as possible. When deciding what information to share with your PR agency, the rule of thumb is: as much as possible, as early as feasible. PR programs can unravel if the marketing manager refuses to devote time to the effort, leaving the agency with little or no information to use in its efforts. At the very least, marketers should schedule a regular weekly or biweekly update meeting with the agency to review strategies that are underway and to discuss company news. Often, the information discussed at these meetings may seem insignificant to the marketer but it may provide the agency just the right foundation for an attention-grabbing campaign or story opportunity — or even cushion the impact of a looming crisis. Company experts also can be invited to these meetings to spur ideas.

3. Respect your agency’s advice. You hired your PR agency for their expertise and insight. If your agency isn’t challenging you and presenting fresh ideas and unique solutions to your business challenges, then they are not doing their job. Sometimes the advice is a little hard to take: what marketer wants to be told that the messaging they spent a fortune on is all-wrong? However, it’s important to understand that your PR agency wants both you and your company to succeed. The PR agency looks good only when you look good.

4. Give your agency the time and budget necessary to succeed. Don’t set your PR agency up to fail by either under funding its efforts or imposing unrealistic deadlines for success. When you hire an architect or an engineer, you don’t negotiate down the rate, ask for junior level staffers so you can stretch the budget, and then expect to get stellar results. Likewise, give the PR program time to work. If you’re new to PR or have had a rocky relationship with the media, it could take six months before your PR agency is able to build up enough trust with reporters for your public relations program to take off.

5. Develop measurable goals together. Finally, measure your progress by developing goals and putting processes in place to track results. Because most goals today are to increase sales, make sure you track leads that come in from your public relations efforts and measure the value of those leads that convert to sales. Tracking where the leads come from will help strengthen the PR efforts by focusing more on those media outlets. And, because you are actively tracking progress, you can easily modify your efforts to get the maximum results within your budget. Modify and try new things as you go. If you are interested in trying new media channels, such a using video or speaking at a specific venue, ask how the agency can support you and make sure you measure the success of those efforts too.

Most importantly, speak up if you’re not getting what you need from your public relations agency. If your agency truly is a partner, they will be happy you did and will do whatever they can to improve the relationship.

Mara Conklin (mconklin@teamclarus.com) is founder and president of Clarus Communications.

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