For companies needing an extra hand with their public relations efforts, agencies continue to be a popular choice. PR agencies help clients tell stories and get their messages out.

Yet, these relationships are often challenging for brands to manage. Just because they’ve brought an agency in to help DOESN’T mean they can expect to take a hands-off approach and be successful.

What can companies who want to work with a public relations agency do to foster the best relationship? Here are nine tips from some pros in the trenches.

9 Tips for Successfully Working with PR Agencies

  1. Choose an agency carefully: The first step in building an effective agency relationship is using care in the selection process. “I think choosing a partner that you feel confident in is critical,” says Rachel Vandernick, founder and consultant, The Vander Group, who managed agency relationships before founding her own. “Look for one that shares your markers for success, can define and stand by KPIs upfront, and shares and backs your goals.” Ask what their longest-running account has been, advises Jocelyn Brandeis, co-founder, JBLH Communications, who’s managed agency relationships for companies including a major premium cable network. “If the agency has been in business for ten years, but the longest client relationship has been six months, that’s a red flag.”
  2. Set accurate expectations: Be sure both sides are clear about expectations. It’s helpful if both the agency and the client share a similar idea of what is happening when. “Expectation setting about timelines and being clear on deliverables can save so many headaches and wasted money, ” says Vandernick.
  3. Have clear objectives: Yes, you want to collaborate with the PR agency on strategy—but first set objectives. What will success look like? “Before you begin working on any strategy, clear objectives should be defined…early on,” says Leah Hunt, Public Relations and Communications professional, and PR Director, Hope for Women magazine. 
  4. Pay attention to the onboarding process: During the onboarding process, is the agency trying to sell you more services? Or are they listening to understand what it is you need? “Both you and the agency should be able to ask questions… lots of them,” Hunt advises. “In the end, the agency should know what the client’s business is all about and how it operates.” 
  5. Get to know your account team: “Make sure you become well acquainted with EVERYONE on the PR agency’s team – not just the one or two people assigned to your account,” says Brandeis. Why? Some agencies have been known to pull a bait-and-switch with new clients. They put forward their senior team members to win the business, then assign more junior associates to do the actual work. You want to meet the people who will be carrying out the day-to-day tasks—and feel comfortable that they can get the job done.
  6. It’s all about communication: You should feel comfortable communicating with your agency partners. “Choose not to be a pushover,” says Hunt. “If something is unacceptable or gives you pause, express your concerns and share your reasoning. Communication is the foundation of a great client/agency relationship.”
  7. Build trust: While it isn’t always possible to trust a new relationship from day one, you should have some ability to trust your new PR agency partner. While you’re getting to know each other, the agency should be providing proof points of its ability to help you achieve your goals. What are some warning signs to watch out for? “Inconsistent performance and not being transparent about their work,” Hunt says. “You do not want to continue working with an agency that isn’t upfront and honest about their business practices. You want to ensure that they are aligned with your brand, mission and goals.” 
  8. Remember that YOU are in charge: Always keep in mind that you manage the agency. You should be the one setting the goals and objectives and approving their work. “You oversee and manage them, not the other way around,” says Brandeis. 
  9. Listen to their advice: If you’ve done the legwork to hire a new PR agency partner, listen to what they have to say. “After all, you are paying for it, so listen when they have an opinion to share,” Brandeis says. 

Next month, watch for part two of this series when PR agencies weigh in on how clients can help make the client/agency relationship successful. Meanwhile, read our ebook on customer journeys to help inform your communications strategy and set goals that will provide real business value.