Our best client relationships are true partnerships, which means open communication, especially when difficult things need to be said. Sometimes clients are worried about upsetting us, interrupting work, or maybe as human beings, we all just don’t like saying the hard things.
But when you tell your PR team the truth -- as long as you do so in a timely manner -- they can pivot, as needed, to better support you and your program. The best way to keep communications lines open is through regular check-in meetings (preferably in-person) to talk about progress and areas for improvement as an extended team. Here are some questions to ask yourself prior to these meetings if you think it may be time to have a direct conversation with your PR firm:
How long have you worked together? Getting a PR program up-and-running, especially if it is the first time a company has worked with an agency, takes time -- and, often, so does achieving meaningful results. The most successful relationships focus on the bigger picture, long-term strategy and execution. If it has been less than 90 days and you are clear on exactly what the PR team should focus on to help meet your goals, it may be premature for a “things need to improve” conversation.
Have you expressed your concerns? Maybe the account team has changed and no longer collaborating the way that they used to, or perhaps the thought leadership platform that was created and discussed is not leading to anticipated media opportunities. Whatever the reason, if you have expressed frustration and nothing improves or the approach does not evolve, it is time to have a serious conversation about refocusing energy and refreshing strategies and tactics.
Is your agency coming up with creative ideas? Do you feel like your firm is reactive vs. proactive or just “yesing” you, versus coming to the table armed with outside-the-box thinking that understands the importance of integrated culture to modern marketing? What clients say they want and what PR professionals believe to be the most effective approach for achieving results don’t always overlap -- it’s a balancing act. Your firm should confidently offer strong guidance and feel empowered to professionally push back to find strategies that will move the needle for your business. If your PR team is not questioning what will work, constantly examining what they are trying to achieve and looking for the best ways to get there, then it may be time for a new firm.
Do the results map to your goals? Counting the number of media placements and calling it a day simply does not work anymore. Goals should be established together from the very beginning of a relationship or a specific campaign and reevaluated over time to ensure that your PR goals always reflect changing business goals. Your firm should also understand the important difference between hard work and great results: they are not the same thing.
Does the agency understand your business/industry? A thorough kick-off process to get your firm up-to-speed on what you do, what sets you apart, how you make money, and what you are looking to achieve is crucial. If the agency still does not understand your business, perhaps it is not the right cultural fit.
Remember that this needs to be a two-way street. Being open to feedback that your PR agency may have about your team and processes is also an important piece of the relationship -- whether they have ideas for a more efficient PR program, or concerns that a specific executive has been a bottleneck to progress.
So this is an open invitation to tell your PR team the direct, honest feedback, even the hard things that you don’t want to say, because we actually want to know. Ultimately, the conversation should end with a clear path forward as one team.