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Best Practices for Working with a PR Agency


May 6, 2020

If you find yourself investing in working with a PR agency, it's imperative to get the most out of that relationship. Because if you've identified the need for outside help, why not do everything you can to ensure the relationship thrives? Knowing what your expectations are, what deliverables you expect, and the data you'll use to measure success will help grease the wheels and help both parties flourish.

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.

So, what’s contributing to that growth? Those surveyed point to 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 specialisation organisations may need that 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.

Strategy planning

Working with a PR Agency

There are always pros and cons involved when working with an external resource. While an agency may bring a fresh pair of 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.

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 still be successful.

So, what can companies who want to work with a public relations agency do to maximise that partnership? 

Here are 10 tips from some of the pros in the trenches.

10 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. 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.
  9. 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. 
  10. 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. 
PR agency meeting

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. 

To help maximise your partnership with your PR agency, read our eBook on demystifying customer journeys to help inform your communications strategy and clarify goals that will provide real business value.

Meltwater invited some of the world’s most respected Marketing, Communications, and Tech leaders to bring their exclusive insights to the table for the Meltwater Digital Summit 2020. Access the recordings of the Digital Summit presentations for free here.