Those who work at public relations agencies have a reason to smile these days. The agency business is projected to grow substantially over the next five years, according to a recent study by USC Annenberg that predicts it will go from $14 billion to $19 billion.

What’s contributing to that growth? Those surveyed point to an increasing demand for content creation, social media, brand reputation and media relations.

Keeping up with the demand has many brands in a quandary. Do we ask our internal PR team to handle the load? Or do we hire an outside firm to help? Sometimes, it’s not a clear-cut decision.

Hire an Agency or Work with an In-House Team?

It’s no secret that internal PR teams can be strapped for time. As demands increase, brands either have to hire more staff or look to external resources for assistance.

Sometimes, there are areas of specialization organizations may need that an internal public relations staff may not possess. Not every team has a crisis communications expert or a social media strategist.

Whether it’s needing an extra set of hands or requiring particular expertise, companies may want to consider bringing an agency on board to assist.

Working with a PR Agency

When they decide to hire a firm, there are always pros and cons involved when working with an external resource. While an agency may bring fresh eyes to a project, they may also bring disjointed communications and add complexity to the process. This is why it’s important to consider the best practices for working with an agency and some pitfalls to watch out for along the way.

Communication is essential: The most important element in any successful relationship is communication. The client may have had the best intentions when it hired the firm, but if there’s no communication, the effort will undoubtedly fall flat.

“The client HAS TO engage with the PR agency,” said Adam Gingery of Majux.com. “Many companies pay good money for an agency and then let emails and opportunity suggestions sit in their email, untouched. It’s not a passive relationship.”

Assign a point person: The agency will have an account manager heading up the client’s account – but does the client have someone spearheading the effort on its end?

“It only works with regular communication between client and agency and if someone in the organization takes responsibility for that flow,” says Kerryanne Clancy, senior PR account manager at Plinkfizz.

Regularly check-in: Meet or talk regularly with the PR agency. It comes back to communication. If there’s an issue, it’s better to uncover it early then to allow it to fester until it becomes much more difficult to address. Frequent check-in or touch base calls can help bring any challenges to light.

Share goals and expectations early on: “Sharing goals and expectations with your agency early on can help them achieve your PR and growth objectives,” said Ryan Greives of Cleverbridge. Revisit as needed, if the strategy changes.

Be responsive: When it comes to media relations, journalists have deadlines. If your PR firm is trying to respond to a reporter’s deadline and the client is nowhere to be found, the opportunity may be lost. Be sure that there’s always a point of contact that’s reachable. That means one that isn’t on vacation or on a business trip to a remote location.

Arm them with info: The more the public relations agency knows about your business, the more it can work as your partner. Share with them anything you feel they should know. This includes product roadmaps, upcoming partnership announcements, new customers of note, events or tradeshows you may be participating in, industry trends—you get the picture.

Tell the truth: “Always tell the truth (the good, bad and the ugly),” says Lisa Goldsberry of Axia Public Relations. “Hiding information helps no one. Be honest about your expectations, strengths and challenges. To do otherwise forces your PR firm to work in the dark, never knowing when or where the next opportunity or crisis will arise.”

Don’t micromanage: If you’ve done your due diligence when hiring an agency, you should trust the team to do its job. Just as employees don’t appreciate a boss looking over their shoulder constantly, an agency may view this as a sign of distrust.

“Let them update you when the time is right and refrain from harassing them ad nauseum,” says Cooler Insights.

Know who’s working on your initiatives: It’s common for an agency to trot out its executives to win the client – but when it comes to the day-to-day tasks, they may assign a junior associate to your account. Ask to meet all the key players who will be working on your initiatives.

Plan ahead: There’s nothing more frustrating to an agency than finding out about an announcement or event too late to maximize the publicity. This is why it’s important for the client to plan ahead—and to share those plans, events and important dates and milestones with its PR firm.

Give it time: Some clients seem to expect miracles overnight. Public relations can take time. Keep your expectations in line with what’s possible. Giving it three to six months is reasonable.

“Jumping the gun after two weeks and demanding to know why you aren’t on the front page of the New York Times doesn’t work,” says Rob Wynne of Wynne Communications in this Forbes article. “PR is a strategy for savvy businesses who are organized, patient and understand how the media works.”

Be prepared to have a backup plan: If things do go south, be prepared with a Plan B. For instance, if the agency you’ve hired keeps billing you – but not delivering what was agreed upon – it may be time to make a change.

Agency Relationships Can Be Successful

By following these tips and using common sense, you can have a successful partnership with an agency. Be sure to stay engaged and foster open communication for the best results. 

For more on what skills PR pros need in the digital age, download our ebook on the topic.

PR Pros Jeff Bullas