Secrets from the client side

Three things every PR agency should know from someone who spent some time in-house.


I’ve worked on the agency side of PR for 20 years, but recently took a short departure and jumped right into the demanding world of in-house public relations as Global vice president of PR for Gibson Guitars.

One of my core duties was to build the global PR team including hiring and managing agencies across our multiple properties around the world. Having now looked at things from both sides, I’ve decided to return to the agency life—armed with some new insights.

Working in-house with a corporate client gives you a different point-of-view and a greater understanding of what they expect from their agency, and why. It’s not a plug-and-play solution; for each client, you must learn to adapt, and to think as though you are part of the internal team.

Following are a few insights from the corporate side that every agency person should know.

1. Understand the corporate structure

Knowing whom your contact reports to and what the company goals are will help you understand the bigger picture, including what they consider most important, and how you can best translate your client’s goals into PR success.

From this vantage point, you’ll be able to make educated decisions about how to prioritize and proceed. For example, will bigger numbers play better internally or are their concerns more specifically targeted? Are there specific media outlets that the top executives pay special attention to?

After all, they’ve come to you for your expertise and strategic long view, but if a senior executive covets an article in his hometown paper or a profile in a business journal, it’s not a bad idea to please the client.

One more thing: Turnovers happen, and when a new person comes onboard at the company, connect with him or her immediately to get a sense of where that person comes from, how he or she works, and what the new employee will expect from you.

2. Learn the language

File your reports in a format that provides data that’s easy for the client to translate internally, keeping within the corporate reporting guidelines. Find out ahead of time how they would like to see the report. In fact, ask for an example of their internal reporting so you can deliver materials exactly the way that works for them. Making it simple for your in-house contact to forward your reports without massive edits will help demonstrate success—and make everyone look good.

3. Proactively maintain communication

Do not wait to hear from the client; quiet time is not a good thing. Agencies sometimes rationalize that everything is fine just because the client isn’t complaining, but it’s simply not smart to assume.

In our line of work, if there’s no news, you need to work to make something happen. Stay in touch with your clients, keep up to date on what they have in the pipeline, and stay abreast of industry developments that can impact their brands. You should always keep on your toes, ready to make adjustments and refinements that show you are paying close attention to the needs and wants of your client.

Ed James is the president and co-founder of Cornerstone PR.

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