With 2014 just getting underway, many communications professionals are finalizing their plans and budgets for the new year.
Often this exercise includes an evaluation of the state of relationships they have with agency partners. Are things working? Is it time to make a change?
Well, even if it’s your first time engaging an agency, there are some fundamental best practices you can apply that will help ensure the kind of partnership that will yield the best results with long-term impact.
• Expectations alignment. Clearly define and communicate what success looks like to both parties. How will you measure it? This expectations alignment should be done collaboratively. Just dictating metrics without the agency's input puts them on the defensive right out of the gate and prevents you from getting an outsider's perspective on what it takes to get the results you want. Collaboration also helps you avoid the "drinking your own Kool-Aid" syndrome.
• Constant communication. Once the plans, goals and measurement metrics are in place, the most important thing you can do is develop and maintain a multi-threaded communication channel. Don't rely solely on email or voice messages. Meet weekly to go over activities, initiatives, and any other action items further down the pipeline; regular check-ins help keep both partners on top of deliverables and goals. Talk regularly, even if it’s just a quick chat to go over a pitch angle or blog post theme. Try to connect face to face at least quarterly—an in-person, “meeting of the minds” ensures undivided attention from both partners and adds an element of collaboration that can’t always be achieved over the phone. Also, don't make every conversation about business. Get to know each other as people. Connecting on a personal level helps build understanding and deeper connections.
• Hear what each other is saying. This can be tricky. It's easy to talk about shared success, good news, etc. On the other hand, problems and bad news tend to get sugar-coated. Both parties must agree to tell it like it is and really listen to what’s being said. Once you seriously consider all positions, you can generally work out a solution that everyone can get behind.
• Flexibility leads to durability. In every long-term successful client engagement I've experienced, flexibility by both parties has been a crucial factor. Inevitably there will be changes that must be dealt with in the course of a partnership. For the client it can be things like changes in company direction, strategy, and funding. For the agency it can be things like team member promotions and departures. If you can accept that change is continual, then you will be much better prepared to deal with these developments, adapt, and move on.
• Teamwork builds chemistry. Great athletic teams typically possess something called "chemistry." For the most part, chemistry is intangible. You can't measure it, but you can sense it. I think the first step toward building chemistry is making a commitment to teamwork. That means taking initiative and being proactive to make other people's jobs and lives just a little bit better. Offering to go that small extra step by staying late to handle a request or do some extra research over the weekend should be appreciated and rewarded. Creating an environment in which this kind of effort is recognized establishes foundation on which chemistry can develop and thrive.
We’ve all done our jobs when both the client and the agency are not only passionate about the story being told through PR, but appreciative of the day-to-day efforts and successes of everyone on the team. Few things are better than achieving goals as a team and celebrating that success together.
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We see the benefits of this every day. Individual success is great, but when it’s a shared experience, it’s somehow sweeter.
What assets do you think are crucial in developing a great client/agency partnership?
A version of this story originally appeared on Lois Paul and Partners' blog, Beyond the Hype.