Getting the best results out of your PR agency over the long term

The pitch process is complete. The new agency is on board. Everyone is happy. The PR agency has a new and exciting client (and associated fee) and the client has a team focussed on delivering a public relations and communications strategy that is firmly rooted in the business’s objectives.

But what happens after the initial honeymoon period is over?  Often external pressures, team changes and a reduction in focus means that irritations creep into the relationship and results can start to dip. So, how do you keep the love alive?

Date nights? Or evenings in with a RomCom DVD and popcorn?  I’m guessing you agree these are not the best approach for getting your relationship with your agency back on track.

A good starting point is to have an honest appraisal of how things are going. A good filter for this is to consider what type of working relationship you have with the agency;

  • Defection – you are on the point of putting the account out to pitch
  • Transaction – the agency does what you ask but no great chemistry and are reactive
  • Partnership – the agency is proactive, gives you good advice and new ideas, and the chemistry is good
  • Loyalty – the agency gives you professional and personal counsel; you expand their remit and are happy to recommend them

Wherever you may be on this spectrum, it makes good commercial sense to make sure that you are focused on moving towards ‘loyalty’.  The value you get from your agency is at its highest when working like this.  And of course, on a personal note, being responsible for an agency working at its maximum potential is good for your internal reputation.

If there are areas for development, what is the best approach to get the relationship back on track?  My experience is that the carrot is more effective than the stick.  An honest discussion is a good starting point, but emotions can get in the way; so creating an agreed framework for the discussion is a useful tool for making sure that it results in a constructive plan for development.  You can do this with your agency lead or another director from the firm.

If your agency spend is significant, it can be advantageous to use a third party to facilitate, using proprietary tools. At Agency People we use a straight forward spider diagram with pre agreed axis.  This allows the process to be repeated at regular intervals to measures progress.  The reviews work in conjunction with account development plans that detail what agency and client are going to do differently, to make sure that the areas for development at achieved.

You can take the process a step further by profiling your team and the agency team to ascertain what your main drivers are and who will work best with whom.  A tried and tested model is DISC which profiles individuals by four key behaviours:

  • Drive – fear of failure, push for results, can be over bearing
  • Influence –fear of rejection, prefers 1-2-1 relationships
  • Steadiness – fear of disharmony, team player, can find change hard
  • Compliance – fear of things going wrong, accurate and precise, can be nit picking

If you would like to read some more on getting the best out of your agency take a look at the PRCA’s agency/client charter or PR Week’s recent article on why agencies should be investing in building client loyalty.

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A 25 year PR sector veteran, Richard Houghton is board-level advisor to Firefly, and an associate partner at specialist management consultancy, Agency People.  richard@agency-people.co.uk; or follow Richard on Twitter: @rhoughton

 

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  • http://twitter.com/ausbrai Austin Brailey

    I like this. What I’d really like to see now is ‘Getting the best out of your client’. The ‘What type of relationship you have…’ is of course two way. So from a PR side, “Partnership – the client is very responsive, listens to advice and new ideas, and the chemistry is good”.

    But what about the ‘under performers’? Would a third party ever be bought in to facilitate an agency wishing to get more out of their client for example?