Public Relations Agency Best Practices, Part 1: Starting a New Client-Agency Relationship Right

We’ve all heard horror stories about how PR agencies have screwed up – disorganized service, too little attention from senior agency staff, too little experience on the account team, and the list goes on.

I’ve also heard plenty of horror stories about clients and how hard they are to work with. (I covered that in an earlier blog post.)

hearts-birdsIn this blog post and a follow-up post, I’ll provide my own template for agency best practices. My goal is to provide a template for agency/client best practices to help clients and potential clients know what they should expect as well as what will be expected of them, and to help other agencies organize their account services for optimal success. I welcome input from clients and other agencies on anything that I might have left out.

While the budget for public relations agency services dictates the amount of work and the level of activity a PR company can provide, there are certain basic components that are necessary for success no matter what the budget is. In my experience, it’s very difficult to achieve success for any client without providing those basic services and activities. When the budget is too small to afford these basics, it’s generally a good sign that both the client and the PR firm would be better off not starting a relationship.

I’ll start at the beginning – of the client-agency relationship, that is!  Here are what I consider to be best practices for kicking off a new relationship.

1. Schedule a client/agency meeting for an in-depth briefing of account team as soon as possible after the contract is signed. In most cases, the detailed PR plan will come out of this meeting, including the client’s PR positioning, audiences, key messages, strategies, tactics and budget. Necessary information to be shared (or decided) at the meeting:

  • Complete background on the assignment, the product or the company, including the competitive landscape, strengths and weaknesses of the product or company, history of product or company, distribution channels for product or company, research done by client on perceptions of key audiences, and a description of the client’s internal organization
  • Client’s preferred modes of communication
  • The approval process between client and account team
  • Upcoming deadlines for work
  • Clear and detailed client goals for PR
  • Identify the internal point person for the agency team. The agency needs regular input, updates and feedback from the client and must determine right away who in the company will provide this
  • Identify the client’s point person for accounting and invoicing

2.   The deliverables from that first meeting: the agency sends the client a detailed written plan and budget for the first year (or for a shorter period of time, depending on circumstances and contract).  Contents of the plan should include:

  • Confirmation of the PR goals, audiences, messaging and strategies
  • Confirmation of the agency’s deliverables to the client
  • Adjustments to any ideas previously proposed to account for new information received at the first meeting
  • Detailed information on each of the components and stages of the PR plan
  • Clear delineation of who is responsible for each component of the work – client or agency
  • Deadlines for each component that must be met by the client and the agency
  • Estimated budgets for agency fees and out-of pocket expenses

 In Part 2, I will cover the best practices for agency services after the relationship is under way. 

Lucy Siegel

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5 Responses to “Public Relations Agency Best Practices, Part 1: Starting a New Client-Agency Relationship Right”

  1. Leah Says:

    Agree with the first point – discussing the client’s requirements in depth, at the very start of the project is crucial as the approach that ought to be taken can be determined after gauging the info the client’s provided.

    • Bridge Global Strategies Says:

      Leah, thanks for your comment. Some companies don’t understand the consultative nature of what we do, and still have an image of PR firms as “publicity machines.” In those situations the attitude can be, “we’ll tell you exactly what we want you to do,” (generally meaning, “we want you to send out four news releases a month,” etc.) when it would be more beneficial to ASK us what WE think needs to be done. Most of the time, companies with that attitude come around after awhile when they realize we are bringing good insights to the table that they should consider! — Lucy Siegel

  2. Evelyne Oreskovich Says:

    Thanks Lucy. These are strong points not only for PR agencies but any consulting assignment as well… they definitely will go in my step-by-step guide for any new engagement!

  3. Benjamin Says:

    Communication is key and must remain consistent throughout all points of contact. It can be difficult to properly gauge client requirements but it is an extremely important factor, of course you’re aware of that though.

    • Bridge Global Strategies Says:

      Benjamin, “gauging client requirements,” or what I call communications goal setting, is indeed an extremely important factor, and has to be the established at the outset of any client engagement. Too often the goals are useless, such as “increase visibility.” As communications professionals, it’s our responsibility to help clients first to articulate measurable goals for PR, and then to suggest practical ways of measuring progress towards those goals. “Increase visibility has to be broken down into measurable goals, such as “increase website visits by 15% in 6 months.”

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