PR is all about building relationships, and there's none more crucial to the success of a campaign than the one between client and agency.
Sometimes, work can slow to a crawl or come to a complete stop due to a delay or breakdown in communication.
That's why a good client-side point of contact (POC) is vital. Here are a few tips for getting more out of your campaigns by selecting the right POC.
What are POCs and SPOCs?
Points of contact or single points of contact (SPOCs) are the people at the client end who are responsible for communications with a PR agency.
Their roles can vary widely. At one end of the scale, they act as a filter for agency communications and requests, ensuring they're passed to the relevant staff member and/or decision maker. At the other extreme, they can be a business owner, managing director, marketing manager, or other senior employee with the authority to make decisions and enact requests directly.
There are benefits and drawbacks to both these setups, but all can be made to work if handled in the right way. Likewise, anyone who's worked with or for a PR agency can point to a time where campaigns have been stalled or slowed by inefficiencies.
The causes of breakdowns
The role of POCs and SPOCs are subject to wide variation, and the causes of setbacks can be equally diverse. A few common examples we've seen crop up time and again include:
Being too busy:
Clients often need quick turnarounds. If the SPOC or POCs hold relatively senior positions in the company, it's all too easy for them to become snowed under by day-to-day work, become unavailable.
This can lead to missed opportunities, adversely affect the relationship, and generally lead to frustration at both ends.
Passing the buck:
When the POCs or SPOCs are at a junior level, they'll often have to send requests up the chain, or liaise with senior staff members to gain approval on an activity, release or editorial piece.
In the worst cases, and particularly when responsibilities are only vaguely outlined, this can result in a flurry of buck-passing. In the case of press releases and other external communications, numerous iterations may fly around before one is eventually approved.
Lack of buy-in:
PR activities often require the participation of employees from disparate areas of a company. Even in businesses that have an internal marketing team, this can pose a challenge when the wider firm isn't engaged.
Before getting started on a PR campaign, your agency will discuss your goals and put together a brief. However, if sufficient levels of detail aren't included, lactivities may be declined or sign-offs rejected for falling outside the desired area of focus.
Regulation, regulation, regulation:
In several fields, perhaps most notably the professional services sector, properly adhering to regulations is a vital element of running a company. As such, public-facing communications often need to be subjected to scrutiny in this regard before being released.
There's no getting around the necessity of this process, but ensuring the compliance of communications can often have a detrimental impact on the time it takes to get materials released. In the worst case scenarios, messages can be diluted to the point of being staid.
While the difficulties discussed above are perennial, they're by no means insurmountable. If there's sufficient commitment from both sides, kinks can be ironed out and more productive relationships fostered.
The specifics of how one tackles these issues will be dictated by your individual circumstances, however. Some things to keep in mind:
Somewhere between the successful sales pitch and the implementation of a campaign, what's expected of both parties can become vague or undefined. When questions pop up in regard to timing, approvals or key messages, the effectiveness of activities is reduced and this can lead to frustration on all sides. One way to mitigate the effect of uncertainty is to clearly set out what's expected of everyone from the get-go. At initial planning meetings, timeframes should be set for approval, turnaround and the frequency of activity.
You're unlikely to perfect process in one sitting, bu by noting red flag issues in the set-up phase, you can take steps to avoid being bogged down by difficulties later.
Picking the right POC:
Despite the best intentions, if the POC is unable to meet his or her obligations, it can have a severely detrimental effect on how fruitful PR efforts will be.
Ensure you choose someone that will:
• Be available on short notice
• Be able to quickly rally the troops when opportunities arise
• Have the authority to make decisions or a direct hotline to those that do
• Have a support team or assistant in place to take the reins if they're unavailable
• Negotiate the vagaries of the approval/sign-off/compliance process
• Have ample time to engage with the campaign and react
The bottom line
The above suggestions won't act as a silver bullet for all your PR woes, but addressing issues early on will help streamline processes and mitigate any negative consequences should things go awry. It's also preferable to tackle issues like this head-on rather than burying your head in the sand, hoping for the best, and becoming frustrated when things don't work out.
Have you had any negative experiences with agency communications or have processes proved prohibitive to your PR performance? If so, let us know in the comments.
Suzy Simpson is a senior consultant at Roland Dransfield PR based in Manchester, UK, specialising in B2B campaigns for the property and professional services sectors. Follow her on Twitter or connect on Google+.