Perfect Partnerships: Building the foundations for a successful PR agency/client relationship

Thursday, 26 February 2015, 17:20 | Category : General
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This week, Jenny Sumner, Head of EMEA PR, Zipcar, shares her views on Perfect Partnerships: Building the foundations for a successful agency/client relationship

It was hard to go anywhere mid February without being bombarded by red roses, chocolates, M&S meal deals and enough cards proclaiming love to fill a landfill. Whilst the annual joys of Valentine’s Day celebrate the personal relationships in our life, it also got me thinking about other important partnerships that impact our lives on a daily basis.

Whilst family and friends obviously top the list, the relationships that we have at work take up a huge proportion of our headspace and can quite easily make the difference between a good day and a bad day.

Appointing the right agency partner is probably the most important job for an in-house PR, and nurturing and growing that partnership as it progresses has a huge impact on the role PR plays within a business.

So, how do you keep the client/agency partnership sweet?

Understanding a client’s needs

The scope of client side roles varies widely; from one-man bands to behemoth Comms Departments, there is no one size fits all. One relationship that can be overlooked by an agency trying to win business is the client/agency relationship itself. For me, I look for a partner that understands the structure of my business, how PR fits in and that can build a team around that, enabling the agency partner to deliver the best value to the client by plugging the gaps. All too often clients are offered a fixed retainer with a cost heavy press-office function,  and whilst sometimes it’s the right approach, there are often better ways of doing things.

Understanding the business needs

Arguably, this should sit ahead of understanding the client’s needs, but realistically the client will be the decision maker when appointing the agency and will be looking for a partner that will work well with them and their team. I’m not sure how much explanation this section needs – a client is always looking for an agency partner that has a good grasp of their business objectives that can bring cost-effective and creative solutions to addressing those needs through public relations.

Whilst I could go into huge detail on the above points, any PR professional reading this already knows the fundamentals of what is required to deliver a successful PR campaign. Instead, as all PROs love a list,  I thought I would focus on the underlying, everyday things that I believe truly make an agency/client partnership work in the long term.

Trust – From engaging with journalists and stakeholders to having confidence that deadlines will be met, the biggest headache occurs when there is no trust in the partnership, instantly doubling the work of the client. An agency should seek to establish this as soon as they can and once it’s earnt, work hard to keep it.

Keep me accountable – I remember my early days in agency world, sitting in on client meetings and carefully scribing meeting minutes that would then takes hours of formatting and rounds of approvals before they were sent to the client. In a world where budgets are tight and time is precious, this is a waste of time. However, the value of having your agency help keep you and the status of activities in check remains. A quick email, succinctly summarising a call/meeting is all it takes to know that the agency is on top of things.

Proof, proof, proof – The days of the ‘three-way proof’ seem to have passed and with the arrival of social channels and an increasing reliance on email, things can sometimes get a bit sloppy. I want to know that when I receive a document into my in-box, it is 100% grammatically correct.

Don’t just send in the ‘big guns’ – This is a niggle from many PR colleagues. Some new budget becomes available and you find yourself in a meeting with all the senior partners in the agency, most of whom don’t know your business and have literally been dropped into the meeting with little or no brief. Whilst agencies provide huge value in giving clients access to skill sets and expertise that they don’t have, I think it’s important to remember that clients are not always impressed by the arrival of these ‘big guns’, unless they can deliver true value.

Be authentic – We’re all human beings, we all make mistakes and we all have lives outside of work. A successful partnership lies in respecting this and working together.

So if you’re looking to make the partnership work perfectly, then you do really need to consider it a relationship for the long term and invest in both the large and small things that matter to your client to build and maintain trust. Without that, there will never be harmony and the honeymoon period will be very swiftly over before it ever began.

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