Long years working in PR, both in an agency and more recently, on my own, have focused my attention on the importance of the client/agency relationship. The right relationship ensures that a client gets the results they seek and a level of service they can’t fault. Their agency feels valued and, often, this motivates them to try even harder to exceed their client’s expectations.
Conversely, without the foundation of a strong open and honest relationship, day to day liaison between clients and agencies can quickly become mired in mismatched expectations and a mutual sense of frustration.
Clients have different needs, different pressures and different styles of working. To a large extent, it is down agencies to fit in with the client and to prove their value. Long term, though, a relationship will only succeed if both client and agency do their bit to make it work. Here are a few suggestions:
Start as you mean to go on
Client: Once you’ve appointed your agency, commit time to helping them to understand your business; introduce them others within your team with whom they will need to work and brief colleagues about the agency’s plans and requirements from them. Show your strong support for them and ask your colleagues to do the same.
Agency: The initial phase of the relationship is vital. Make sure that you get all the information you need and that you establish positive working relationships, not just with your client, but with all those with whom you will be working. If you’re unclear about any aspects of the brief or your client’s expectations, ask now!
Work as a team
Client: You will get better results if you regard the agency as an extension of your team and invest time in building a good working relationship with them. Get to know them. Spend time with them, informally and formally. We are all human and personal relationships matter.
Agency: Become an indispensable part of your client’s team, not only by delivering great results by also by proving yourselves as reliable, flexible and helpful colleagues. The more you are integrated into your client’s organisation and valued for your contribution, the more secure your contract will be.
Be open, honest and fair
Client: It’s easy to criticise when things don’t go well but it also easy to forget to express appreciation when they do. Make sure that you are equally fair in recognising success when the agency gets a good result and, if at some stage, you feel the campaign is struggling, don’t leap to judgement before inviting them in to discuss your concerns and to work together on a solution.
Agency: Life is not perfect and sometimes things go wrong. If they do, make sure you alert the client as soon as possible, apologise, and outline what you plan to do to remedy the situation. If you are aware of issues which could affect your client – perhaps a staff change at your end – talk to them as far in advance as possible and ensure they are comfortable with the solution you are putting forward.
The PR agency/client relationship is like any other. It’s built on communication, respect and trust. If you remember this, you will be giving the relationship the best possible chance of success.