So the question is; does the perfect PR agency exist? Having spent much of my career being the client in the in-house communications team, I can categorically say that there’s no such thing as the perfect agency. To have the perfect agency you need to have the perfect client. And sadly although I tried very hard I fell short a number of times and so did my colleagues. But I have had the fortune of working with some of the most talented and inspiring communication agency professionals and below are my take-outs towards achieving the abyss of a perfect PR partnership.
It may be obvious, but at the heart of any good relationship is mutual respect. The best campaigns come when in-house teams treats their agency partners as an extension of their own team. There are certain things that can’t be shared with your agency, but transparency and sharing of business knowledge is key. And to be honest, there are certain things that I never needed to be privy to from the agency side. Although it was quite amusing when knowing that an account manager had over indulged the night before when they were trying their best to present the results of their latest piece of work.
As a partnership you’re stronger together – a partnership that can solve problems, tackle challenges head on, be agile and know limitless creativity. Too easy is it for the in-house team to chuck the hard stuff over the fence to the agency partner and get them to find the answers. In any client all-agency meeting it was immediately apparent when the in-house and agency teams were working as one. The flow of intellectual traffic was travelling in both directions rather than a one way (uninspiring) stream of to-do lists from in-house to agency.
Unless your budget is being blown by having an exclusive agency team, remember that your agency is a business and it’s quite probable your brief isn’t the only one that they’re working on. Afterall, you no doubt hired them based on their experience from their other clients. Therefore, it’s key to manage the team effectively and be respectful of time. Do you really need to drag the entire agency team out to your suburban office when a video conference will be just as effective?
And equally, the agency team have lives too. Unless it’s an emergency I don’t believe that you get the best by bellowing down the phone to an agency late at night. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes tough conversations need to take place, but unless it’s an emergency give your agency a break from you.
Celebrate success together
My aim was to be the client that all the agency colleagues wanted to work with. I wanted to attract the best agency talent on my extended (agency) team. The in-house team plays a key role in creating success.
Go back to beautiful basics – if you give your agency a crap brief expect a crap response.
No matter how talented the agency are they can’t deliver award-winning work when they don’t have the commercial context or basic information such as business goals that the brief is addressing and customer profiling. And if briefs change, like they quite often do, tell your agency. Take ownership of your campaigns and evolve them being uber clear about what together you want to achieve.
Invest in your agency as much as they invest in you. As a client you need to set your agency up for success. And most importantly celebrate that success together. It takes two minutes to send an email to a junior member of the agency team congratulating them. I’ve lost count of the number of times directors would comment what a positive impact a simple email made to their account executive.
Get comfortable with the tough stuff
A PR agency is a business and therefore as a client you need to be profitable to them. That’s not to mean that you splash the cash every time the agency mentions the dreaded word ‘over-servicing’. But that you’re aware of the hours they’re spending verses the results that are being delivered. Continuing an open dialogue enables you to nip things in the bud before they reach a point of utter frustrations by both parties.
Agreeing KPIs upfront and having the confidence stop something to try something new means your dollars aren’t being wasted.
PR is a team sport not a solo effort
Too often are we caught up with job titles – directors only ever meeting their agency counterparts and never really knowing who makes up their agency team. It’s those more junior members that tend to be speaking to journalists, influencers, vloggers etc. They have a great insight into how your brand is being perceived, what the competition is doing and potential opportunities.
Additionally, some of the most creative and interesting ideas from brainstorms have come from the newest team members – untainted by previous projects and courageous with their vision. That’s not to say that the entire team needs to be available for every call, video conference or meeting, but know all of your agency team. Know their individual strengths and use them. As the client I never had all the answers and constantly wanted to learn more. It didn’t matter whom I learnt from.
The above isn’t an exhausted list, more thought-starters. Agencies want to deliver award-winning work for their client. At the core of achieving this is the in-house partner. They play a crucial role in the never-ending quest of creating the perfect agency.
Laura Wilkinson-Rea has worked in the PR and communications industry for over 18 years. Beginning her career in agency and later transitioning to in-house leading communication campaigns for some of the world’s most recognised brands.