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  • Writer's pictureMark Button

And they lived happily ever after...

Updated: May 18, 2021

Public relations is a key element of business. How a company presents itself to the world, both externally and internally, can be the difference between success and failure, between growth and stagnation or decline, between attracting the best and brightest or not.

I always encourage PR teams and clients to look holistically at public relations not solely in the traditional sense (for example, press releases, articles, media relations and so forth), but also in a broader sense of relating to our various publics and any activities that actively increase reach to these constituents. Yes, traditional PR but also web and digital, social media, events, mobile communications, content strategy, speaking engagements, sales collateral, marketing materials, sales, point of sale, and any other routes to market. In an ideal world, our objective is to enable all of these elements to sing in unison.

If you don’t strategize and communicate these elements effectively, if you don’t relate to your audience, how then can you convey your messages, your differentiators, your values and your products or services in a compelling way? Quite simply, you can’t, or at the very least, it's challenging.

In order for your PR or marketing communications agency of record to provide you with the best value for your investment, and to cultivate the most productive relationships possible, there needs to be a clear mutual understanding between the two parties. For any marketing function, information is its lifeblood. It’s the currency that makes everything possible.

Six Core Tenets of Working With A Communications Agency or PR Firm

You’ve signed the NDA, you’ve engaged with an agency/consultancy and you are ready to go. Based on years of experience in the field, here are some tips that I hope you find useful for hitting the ground running.

1. Establish Trust

Trust is the bedrock of a business relationship, or any relationship for that matter. Without trust, you have nothing. Getting to know the team you are working with and making those connections is important. Relationships underpin everything. After all, you are all working together for the same cause, for common goals. If you succeed, your agency succeeds. Your agency succeeds, you succeed. Your agency should be an organic extension of your organization. Meet. Get to know each other. Sink a beer. Or two. Enjoy some eats. Knowing people helps to develop an appreciation for what each party brings to the table and encourages an open mind to new perspectives, new tools, and fresh ideas.

2. Have Clarity Of Purpose

To ensure that there is no ambiguity in the scope of work, key deliverables, team structure and individual roles, establishing clarity of purpose is one of the key building blocks in the public relations process. A clear, concise brief should map out the current status of the client organization, the need for engagement, the key business drivers, market conditions, presence and context, core business elements and central offering (for example, products and services). Once everyone knows their role and expectations, working as a team is so much easier.

3. Share Your Knowledge

No business is perfect. As a client, you are the expert on your business. You know the good, the bad and the ugly. Don’t be reluctant to share your knowledge and experiences. You have a key historical perspective of the business, the market, the challenges and opportunities, and the landscape. Where do see evolution? What stands in your way? External agencies or consultancies are engaged for their expertise, their independence in many cases, their experience, and the potential value add to your business and ability take you to where you want to be. An open, frank and honest sharing of information, from all parties, is critical to providing the best platform for success right from the outset and to help to ensure the counsel and strategies mutually agree upon best position you to meet your business objectives. Now, that was a mouthful...

4. Employ (And Enjoy) A Healthy Dose Of Realism

Let’s face it, many of us are very close to our work. We devote a great deal of time and energy to it and it's all too easy to get bogged down in the weeds, so to speak. It’s good to stand back, pop our heads over the parapet, and look at the bigger picture periodically (more on that here). A reputable agency will always provide honest counsel, and as an outsider looking in, what they say might not always be what you want to hear. But… honesty, and honestly, that’s a good thing. ‘Keeping it real’ is a must. No business is perfect. If your agency did not review things objectively, they would not be doing your business justice in the long run. Positives can be amplified. Negatives can become positives. It’s very rare that an issue cannot be positively resolved with the right team and a proactive attitude toward moving meaningfully forwards.

5. Objectivity Can Be A Good Thing

Always look at the work you are doing with your agency objectively. Your agency should do this, too. Think about the audience. Look at what you are doing through the lens of a customer. Is what we are communicating relevant? Timely? Appropriate? Is the narrative adding value add to them as they engage with your brand, your materials, your literature? What do they, as an existing or potential customer, need from you? It’s great to have awesome branding but it has to be underpinned by substance, supporting data and true meaning.

6. Allow Ample Time To Engage

It’s good practice to think about your needs well ahead of time. Of course, public relations can (and does) kick into action rapidly (for example, in the case of crisis management). However, the general rule of thumb is to engage with your agency with ample time to fully brief, research, strategize and plan. Knowledge is power, so the more ingrained in your business your agency team becomes, the better armed they are to deliver the absolute best bang for your buck. Two to three months should provide plenty of time for your agency to work their magic.

A good agency relationship is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. With these tried and true tenets, you and your agency partner have a great chance of living happily together for many moons. Let's face it, we all love a happy ending...

Adapted from a piece originally written for the CG Life blog.

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