5 Qualities of Long-term Company/Agency Engagements
By Tim Johnson
Finding a PR agency is tough. Finding a PR agency that specializes in your field, is within budget and has time to take on a new client is even tougher. Many of you probably start by searching something along the lines of “SF PR agency” into Google. While this is a good place to start, there’s a process each company must go through before deciding which agency is the perfect fit.
There are many stories about company/agency relationships that have spanned decades. One of my favorites is the story of Al Golin, the founder of Golin, Inc., meeting Ray Kroc in one of three McDonald’s restaurants in 1956. Al convinced Ray to sign on for $500 per month, and McDonald’s remains an important Golin client to this day, more than 60 years later. Al was one of the finest PR practitioners and people I have known and I consider myself lucky to have worked with him.
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On the flip side, there are many less happy stories about company/agency relationships that crashed and burned, often despite a rigorous RFP and vetting process. Beyond the obvious, what is the secret sauce that has created these enduring engagements?
First, let’s dispense with the obvious questions a company seeking an agency should ask. These include questions like:
- What is your proposal to meet my company’s goals?
- What experience do you have in my industry?
- Who would my team be?
- Can you provide references?
Having worked on the company side twice and the agency side three times in my career, here are five qualities that I believe create an enduring engagement between company and agency.
Ability to Deliver
Companies hire agencies to get results. It’s up to the agency to propose new ideas, work around obstacles and make things happen. Sometimes, the agency team just has to decide that failure is not an option and keep at a project until it achieves success, whether it’s pitching media, writing a complex white paper, placing the company thought leader as a speaker at a tier 1 conference, and more. But, it’s up to the company to provide the necessary spokespeople, content, and resources. Optimized results happen when agencies and companies reinforce each other.
Companies and agencies need to develop and execute creative ideas to rise above the sheet noise in today’s market, whether we’re talking about media coverage or attracting investors at a conference. Given the many hats internal PR teams wear, agencies should drive the creative process. Companies should be willing to take some well-calculated risks to take advantage of new opportunities creative campaigns can provide.
While the goal of brand building is a valuable one, many clients today expect their PR programs to contribute to lead generation. Agencies should develop their strategies, in part, based on to what degree their ideas will accelerate prospects through the sales pipeline. Companies need to understand that the engagement needs to be profitable to the agency as well. And profitability is more than just financial profitability, it includes qualities such as exposing the agency team to a new product concept, or enabling the team to work with experienced company-side PR people.
When the agency has open access to the company’s thought leaders, it can dramatically increase the quality of results and reduce the time invested to generate these results. Similarly, when the internal team can contact any member of the agency team, the company gets the information it needs faster. To achieve that access, there must be a mutual level of trust that the agency earns from the company over time by generating a track record of success.
While this may sound trite, the best engagements are based on trust. Internal PR teams need to trust that the agency will deliver results, will provide document drafts on time and of the highest quality, and will communicate openly when the news about a project is good, and sometimes when it isn’t. Agency teams need to trust that the company will do all it can to make campaigns successful.
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We’re not the only SF PR agency, but there are things we do that help us stand out from the rest. Have other opinions on what makes a long-term company/agency engagement successful? Share your thoughts in a comment below!