Todd Defren reached out asking if I’d do a guest post for his series on the value of PR Agencies. I was much obliged, especially since SHIFT was my former agency (see note at bottom of post.) You can find the original post
Being a former client of SHIFT’s and a fellow PR blogger, I welcomed the chance to contribute to Todd’s series around the value of PR agencies. The majority of my career was spent in high-tech PR agencies, so having the shoe on the other foot is definitely an enlightening experience.I got to experience the RFP process with different agencies and clearly saw the ones who nailed it (SHIFT) and the ones who didn’t (I won’t say). In fact, we hired SHIFT on the spot. We liked their ideas and opinions on my company’s industry and, more importantly, we liked their energy and enthusiasm. We could easily see them as part of our team.
My SHIFT team literally helped be the company’s eyes and ears. Alerting us to posts and trends that we should comment on or create discussions around with panels, awards, keynotes, etc. The team kept an eye on reporting trends and recommended timely angles that addressed our key markets. And while I was busy dealing with internal messaging and strategies, contributed articles, customer relations activities and countless other things, my team kept the boat steered straight ahead by keeping us current with the people we needed to.
I am a big believer in the value of PR agencies; I just think the traditional agency model needs a little refinement of its knowledge base. That’s one reason I was drawn to SHIFT in the first place: I know they don’t like the box and embrace the bold. They’re working hard to elevate the meaning of a “PR agency.” They genuinely want to help move the needle for their clients.
But sometimes clients don’t make it easy. I’ve had tough clients, we all have. Just a few communication adjustments on the client side when working with an agency can help yield even greater results from a passionate agency team.
1. Trust them with information. As an agency worker I always appreciated when clients would share confidential documents that helped me better understand what was happening with the business. While working with SHIFT I would forward all kinds of typically-taboo materials because I knew it would help my team. The more I help them know my business, the higher the quality of work with speaking opps, pitches, helping write blog and article responses, etc.
2. Let them inside. Working on-site is always an enormous benefit for absorbing more of the business but when that’s not possible add your team’s name, or the account lead, to distribution emails. We gave our SHIFT team Rubicon Project email addresses to pitch from, to make it easier with certain media, and we added them to our internal Yammer stream so they could keep up with what was happening inside, including: confidential new client wins, revenue numbers, goals, silly inside company jokes, articles being passed around, etc. And they would reply and contribute on occasion, which was nice since the company employees came to know and trust them.
3. Share the vision. Too often corporate managers don’t engage their teams when it comes to strategy and planning, nor do they help them understand the long-term vision. I always tried to relay our company’s market vision as it unfolded. If your agency knows where you’re trying to take your brand in 6-12-18 months the quality of strategic recommendations will be fruitful. Remember, building a brand is a block-by-block process. No one knows building with tiny blocks better than PR agencies!
4. Juice your creative. Since PR has branched out to touch so many other areas of the business, engage your PR team to recommend strategies outside media and blogger programs. If a quarterly goal is customer retention, engage that creative PR team you hired in a brainstorm to think of direct mail, or Internet marketing or events or articles that help achieve that goal. Agencies are breeding grounds for creative marketing ideas: the good ones don’t mind being asked to think outside their typical safety zone. Tap into that creativity once in awhile.
5. Communicate your needs. Every client is different. They each like reports different, how much phone communication there is, how information is presented, etc. Agencies aim high to service their clients but it can be challenging at times because they’re not mind readers. All kinds of things frustrate clients. I remember back in my agency days, one internal contact was very specific about how we phrased emails to her with press opportunities because of the way she needed to pass it on to the CEO. We crafted them in her preferred formula to make it easy for her to get in front of the CEO in a way that was most effective. Totally fine but it took some trial and error to figure it out.
Figure out what it is you need and communicate it. If you don’t, they won’t be able to fix it, which I guarantee they want to.
When you view your PR agency as just “a vendor” you’re doing yourself a disservice.
It’s hard for a team to feel motivated if they don’t feel believed in. And PR is largely fueled by passion. So if they aren’t feeling it, you’ll feel it too. Instead, treat PR as what it is, a two-way communication between interested parties, both striving toward the same goal – to achieve results for your business.
To answer the question: “If you like SHIFT so much, how come you’re not still working with them?” The reason is the same as the majority of companies in the industry… We’re tightening up in all departments and re-allocating resources. Bringing it all in-house. We’ve seen this dance before 8 years ago…That said, I loved working with my SHIFT team. I still keep in touch with them and hope to work with them again someday.