A friend of mine, who serves as Director of Communications for a non-profit organization, recently engaged a public relations firm and asked me for advice on how to manage the relationship. Putting aside my own ego (why would he come to me for advice on managing a PR firm but not come to me for the actual work?) I provided a few thoughts.
Align priorities – The PR firm must understand your organization’s priorities and design a communications program that supports those goals. Media coverage for the sake of media coverage, or Tweeting for the sake of Tweeting, is a pointless waste of time and resources. If your firm is racking up billable hours on activities that don’t support your business priorities, you are the one who will ultimately be held accountable for the disconnect.
Set expectations – Expectations, on both ends, must be set and understood. When you first engage a firm, the agency team should know what you expect in return for your investment, which goes right along with aligning priorities, and you should know what they are/are not able to do within your budget. This is important, as agencies can overpromise in order to win the business and then under deliver once they bring it in. If you don’t clearly establish expectations at the beginning, the partnership will not be beneficial or rewarding to either party.
Establish measurable goals – Are you engaging the firm to help you increase sales? Grow your membership? Position your executives as thought leaders? Elevate the brand? Know what you want out of the engagement and establish goals to measure against. When you have to request next year’s PR budget, it will be helpful to have metrics to show for the work that was done this year. Perhaps you can get more to do more.
Demand accountability – You are making an investment in your PR firm, and just as you must be accountable to your organization for that investment, the firm must be accountable to you. Require that they provide a monthly detailed break-down of hours for each hourly rate (if that is how they bill you), in addition to YTD billed/budget/balance figures. The invoice should be accompanied by an activity report explaining exactly how the time was spent. If appropriate, go so far as to request that hours and activities be broken out by job code. That can help you ensure that your budget is appropriately supporting your business priorities.
Spend time together – Whether over the phone or in person, try to make time to meet with your team. While email communication is an essential part of getting the work done, it is no substitute for face (or voice) time. Weekly status calls are useful so the team can update you on progress and you can fill them in on developments that may impact the work they are doing.
Having never managed an agency relationship from the client side, those were my initial recommendations. What else do you suggest?