Are you involved in a bad relationship? Personal romance aside, many marketers are frustrated with their public relations agency, feeling that they are not receiving the requisite value and results that they expect from their agency of record. The irony is that in many of these situations, not only is the marketer frustrated with the PR agency, the PR agency is also frustrated with the marketer.
These unsatisfactory results may not be solely the fault of incompetence on the part of your PR agency, but possibly a broken working relationship between the two organizations. Before you run out to do yet another agency search in 2005, step back for a moment and consider how you(yes, you) can work to fix this broken relationship.
Does it seem counterintuitive for you to fix the relationship for which you are likely paying a steep monthly retainer? At first glance, yes. But bringing on a new agency can bring a huge cost — in terms of knowledge transfer, domain expertise and missed opportunity. And it’s very possible that in six months, you’ll find yourself in the same position in with your new agency as you’re in currently.
If It Ain’t Broke, It Might Still Need Fixin’ …
With that said, here’s a step-by-step process to mend a broken PR agency relationship … and some additional principles to guide you in keeping a good relationship fresh and maintaining an ideal working relationship. You should see significant improvement within three months, and if not, then it’s okay to give your PR agency the old Donald Trump: “Yuh fiyud!” (New York accent is optional.)
Starting with a Clean Slate
This one is easy.
There is one constant in every successful client-PR agency relationship: the two entities are true partners. You should view your PR agency as an extension of your marketing department. They are the conduits that enable your target audiences to learn about your company’s products and service. Therefore, you and your PR agency must be in lock-step, much like a partner who you are working with to bring a new product to market.
Repeat after me: My PR agency is my partner. My PR agency is my partner.
Yes, I See Your Point
Communication is the key to any good relationship. If possible, have a face-to-face meeting with your entire PR team (from VP down to intern) to talk about the state of the relationship. Much like a counseling session, this is a time for everyone to voice their frustrations with the relationship and determine next steps towards eliminating the bad and creating more good.
A few rules everyone should follow:
1) Constructive criticism must be viewed as a positive thing on both sides, and along with that, getting defensive isn’t going to solve anything.
2) Finger-pointing is not allowed
3) Talk about the positives along with the negatives. “Everyone in the company was so excited about the big article you placed in X magazine” …“But I don’t feel that the recent product launch made a big enough media impact”
4) Listen. Take into account your PR agency’s view, as that will go a long way in helping them serve you better
Come to an agreement on how to resolve these issues, determine some high-level immediate and long term goals, and how outline how you can achieve those goals. This day of open communication must parlay into constant open communication moving forward.
Keep the Faith
Now that you have laid out what the issues are and have developed a plan to repair the relationship, it’s time to start trusting your team again. An understandable challenge for many marketers, especially ones without a background in PR, is that they tend to lose perspective of how important or unique their company is relative to the companies journalists are following. Agency folk call this “drinking the kool-aid.” While you may believe that your widget is going to change the world, you’re behind the four walls 60 hours per week; your agency has the perspective of the outside world that your internal marketing team may lack.
You expect your PR agency to understand the media landscape and the story elements what specific outlets/reporters require. If your PR agency provides solid feedback on what the media’s feedback is regarding your company, then you should be leveraging their outside perspective to re-set the expectations of you and your management.
A good barometer of success is to look at your competitor’s media coverage. If you are No. 3 in your market, it is likely that the competitors above you get more coverage. Your goal should be to see consistent improvement against those competitors over a period of time. Your public relations programs (be it media, analyst, speaking, etc.) should be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint.
At the same time, don’t let your agency use their perspective and cynicism as a crutch in place of solid coverage. If you honestly and truly believe your news announcement is relevant, and your agency comes back to you with a “ho hum” response, ask them for as much specific feedback as possible from the reporters or analysts they’ve spoken with.
Give The People What They Want!
One of the biggest challenges for many PR teams is the inability to get the information they need from clients to succeed. PR professionals know how busy you are, so if you aren’t available to coordinate an interview or search for a customer reference, provide your team with access to others in your organization who can help immediately.
Remember, your PR agency is a trusted extension of your marketing department, so minimize bottleneck situations by viewing your PR counterparts just like colleagues who can speak with anyone in your organization. Do not fear your PR agency is saying the wrong thing. A good PR rep understands how to communicate with people – be it your executives or customers. Remember, you trust them to speak with the media on a daily basis. (And if they are saying the wrong thing and damaging relationships, then yes, you don’t have a very good PR team and it’s time to look elsewhere.)
In addition to this, make a conscience effort to include your PR agency team’s most senior member(s) in company strategic planning whenever possible and appropriate. This will give the agency a very real sense of ownership and involvement, will enable them to be proactive, and is also likely to bring another valuable point of view to such planning.
More often than not, empowering your agency with these privileges will allow new publicity opportunities and story ideas to be uncovered.
Last, keep in mind the most important idea of all: it takes two to tango.
You can do all the relationship repairing you want, if your agency is not willing to work with you and reciprocate everything you are giving to them (and then some), then you may just be incompatible. Some working relationships can’t be fixed and there can be a number of reasons why your company and your PR team are ultimately not compatible. But just make sure you’ve made your best effort to remedy the situation before you move on, as switching can be expensive in many ways.
You should demand excellence (but not miracles), creativity, enthusiasm (your PR team had better be your No. 1 cheerleader), responsiveness and just plain great work on every program initiative. But to get this type of performance, you need to be willing to give all of the things outlined above.
Michael Kaplan is a member of the fama PR team, an agency that partners with technology companies to deliver excellence in corporate communications and public relations. You can contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the company’s Web site at www.famapr.com.