This is a guest post by Stephanie Kays, director at Eastwick’s San Francisco office.
Working with a communications agency or public relations firm can do wonders for a brand’s image, message and adoption. Getting ideas from outside the company adds perspective you may lack or creativity you just don’t have time for and the results can be impressive. However, if not structured properly, PR relationships can also be tough to manage. They can take up too much of a client’s time or they can seem unhelpful during business crises.
Too often in my profession I hear about communications leaders frustrated with their PR company because of a myriad of reasons. These range from “I’m not getting the right kind of coverage”, to “They don’t understand my business well enough.” When I hear these complaints I tell my colleagues and friends to look deeper into what’s important to them and why it’s not working out. Sometimes it’s something on the company end they overlooked, but there are also some big red flags it might be the relationship with your agency.
Here are a few ways to tell if you’re in a bad PR relationship:
1. Loosely using the word “partnership”
When you’re up against it, you want to feel like you’ve got a partner in crime, not someone pushing an old scope of work at you or someone inflexible to changing paths when a crisis strikes. Agencies thrive on open communication with their client contacts, so if you are honest about the situation you’re facing and clear about how they can help, but receive no feedback, that’s not a partnership and it may be time to make that a priority.
2. Metrics are not on the table
No one likes to be caught off guard. Metrics and measurement are increasingly becoming standard practice for PR professionals, to not only guide work (delivering what they promised) but to also help you make informed decisions. Should you invest ad dollars into a specific social campaign? Is an analyst relations campaign a priority? All of these questions are very important with a lot at stake for you and your company. If you’re currently being presented with plans or strategies from your agencies that do not include clear metrics, push back. They should be able to clearly show you why they recommend a particular strategy or not.
3. Hearing “we don’t do that” constantly
The term PR can be restrictive. It implies that the work only applies to a few tasks such as media pitching and possibly writing some content. Smart communications firms have evolved with their clients’ needs, adding specialists and experts as the platforms and channels of communication shift. If your agency does a few things really well, great, but it may not be the best partnership in the long term for growing needs such as social media, content strategy, executive platforms, media placements across multiple verticals, advertising, community management and design. If you’re looking to grow in new ways with your communications, but your agency doesn’t offer expanded services or needs time to find the right contractor to fit the bill, it may be a sign that you’ve outgrown the relationship.
All good relationships are built on trust and honesty, so if you’re unhappy or overwhelmed with your PR agency, take a moment to figure out what you do or definitively do not want going forward. You may be surprised to hear your agency’s suggestions or ideas for shifting strategies that they can accommodate. You may also decide it’s best to part ways on both sides and open the door to new relationships.
Stephanie Kays is a director at Eastwick’s San Francisco office, specializing in integrated communications, client management and business development.