How to Assess Whether You are Getting the Most From Your Public Relations Agency

By Mary Gendron Senior Vice President / Managing Director, Eric Mower & Associates | March 15, 2010

These are the kinds of questions that surface periodically during the life of almost any client-agency relationship. They may crop up often in a new relationship as it struggles to seek a firm foundation, but they occur even in the most established and longstanding of marriages. The questions are natural and they are understandable. Employing a framework for assessing your particular situation will aid in arriving at solid answers. The process will either support the conclusion that you have the right agency in place...or suggest it may be time to make a change. It will also serve as a guideline for working effectively with your agency so you can be secure in the confidence that you are getting the most from your agency and your public relations budget.
tIn your evaluation, consider the following:

  • Be Sure You've Chosen the Right Agency for Your Needs:
    Ask yourself whether your public relations effort is getting proper attention from your agency team. If your account team is comprised primarily of junior executives - account executives and account coordinators - your agency may be too large, or your budget too small to warrant day-to-day involvement of senior members of the staff. Or your agency may be so small -- a single practitioner or one with limited staff - that it may be spread too thin by trying to serve too many clients simultaneously.

    Regardless the size of your budget, your account team should be headed by a senior staff member - an account supervisor or above - and there should be an agency executive involved in strategy and serving as principal in charge of the success of your program. Each member of the team has a role, with the more junior members of the staff key in moving the account forward with direction from above. If you are employing a single practitioner, come to an agreement up front on the number of hours your budget buys. You need to know that you have a team or individual with sufficient experience to properly steward your brand's image.

  • Make a Long-term Commitment:
    Unless your public relations program is geared to a specific project or event, understand that it is an ongoing process that builds momentum and results over time. At Middleton & Gendron, we suggest committing to a one-year contract with the ability for either party to cancel at any time with 60 days' notice. By viewing public relations as a longer term venture, you will give your agency, and yourself, breathing room needed to create sound strategy, begin to execute that strategy, allow for unanticipated opportunities, and build momentum that will gather strength over time. Whether your purpose is to establish image, change or repair image, promote specific products or services or reinforce your brand, it is not a quick-fix, but a sustained, strategic effort that will bring best results.

  • View Your Team as Partner Rather Than Vendor:
    This is a critical point: Treat your agency team as an extension of your in-house marketing department and you will see a better quality effort yielding results that are strategic and on target. View them as vendors and you are likely to see the same amount of effort yielding less than it might. Why is this? It's all about the relationship. You invest yourself and are more closely involved with team members than with vendors. Therefore, you get to know them better, and they you. Since your PR team is the face of your company, you want that face to mirror exactly who or what you are. You want each of them to care as much as you do about the company, the brand, the product...whatever it is you are promoting. Invest in your team and you will see results that, in many cases, exceed your expectations. You'll also enjoy the interface more and will, over time, give your team more responsibility because you trust them to tell your story properly. Along these lines, be sure to say "thanks" for a job well done, rather than assuming that paying the invoice is enough. That small word will yield great returns in future effort. If you can't see your PR company as a partner, then ask yourself if the chemistry is right. If not, you should consider making a change. Given the choice between two agencies with equal experience and skill, you'll want to opt for the one whose people you like and feel comfortable with. Chemistry matters, and if it isn't good from the outset, the relationship will be short-lived.

  • Give Quality Thinking to Strategic Discussions:
    You hire an agency because they're the experts at what they do, and that's true. But they need you, especially in the beginning, to help set them on the right course. Take the necessary time at the outset, and at various points along the way, to sit with your team and get into some depth on the company's business strategy and how the PR effort needs to support it. While most of the day-to-day PR effort is concentrated in the tactical, it needs to be based on sound strategy in order to produce effective results.

  • Take and Give Direction Clearly:
    There are times, as noted just above, when you need to give the agency direction. At other times, your team will come to you with suggested direction - perhaps not always in line with your thinking. Give time to the discussion, understanding that your knowledge of your company should mesh with the agency's knowledge of how public relations works and how journalists think. Just as your company needs to be abreast of trends in a changing business landscape, so does your agency. The practice of PR is changing rapidly, owing to new technology and how your various constituents are using it. So take advantage of the knowledge and perspective your agency team brings to you. It's part of what you are paying for.

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