3 Things I Wish Agencies Knew

January 2021
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If you’ve ever worked for an agency or as a client who has hired or managed an agency, then you know there is nothing like it when you are able to forge a strong chemistry that can lead to big things. The client-agency relationship is one of the pillars of the PR profession. Yet, arriving at the ideal client-agency relationship is easier said than actually achieved.

With this in mind, I posed a question recently to some veteran PR practitioners who’ve been on the client side, and I asked them this question, “What are the three things you wish agencies knew?”

Teri Daley, APR, of grōTH in Seattle spent eight years on the client side and said the three things she wished agencies at that time knew were: understanding business objectives, challenges and opportunities; knowing it’s not what you do that is important but what you accomplish that matters; and accepting that while “creativity is cool, it isn’t if it doesn’t serve the strategy.”

Daley said that too often, agencies rely solely on marketing and communications Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) rather than understanding business objectives.

“KPIs are used as a performance measurement, but they don’t mean much from a business perspective,” she said.  “Delivering true benefits to the business means delivering meaningful results that don’t always fit within neat KPI boxes. The ultimate goal is to become a valued partner with your client.”

She added that solely focusing on KPIs and metrics can mistakenly lead PR pros to viewing the process very quantitatively, rather than seeing it more strategically.

“A quantitative approach says, ‘Where can I get coverage?’, but a business approach says, ‘I need to convince this stakeholder to do X,’” Daley said.  “This distinction rises within an organization when you demonstrate how you are delivering tangible business results and value.”

Creating consistent progress

Brian Wagner, strategic communications director at Peraton in Herndon, Va., said the three things he wished agencies knew are: creating a sense of progress at all times; mimicking client behaviors; and providing blunt counsel if the agency feels the client is moving in the wrong direction.

“I believe a good agency relationship is built on generating consistent progress in meaningful work. Agencies can’t lose sight of the power of small wins even when they are working toward a consequential end goal for a client,” he said. “When I feel like my agency is acting in a proactive manner, I’m going to be more trusting and more willing to overlook setbacks.”

By stating that he wants the agency to mimic his behaviors, Wagner said, “It’s not just results that matter, it’s how we work together and the relationship we develop. For example, I’m a very detail-oriented and organized person, so I am happiest when I see my agency modeling those same traits in how they engage with me.”

And to his third point, wanting the agency to provide counsel when they feel he could be wrong, he said, “If my agency does not think my priorities or preferences are going to move us in the right direction, I want them to tell me. They are the experts and I want to hear their opinion early and often.”

Both Daley and Wagner came from the perspective that it’s not the role of the agency to simply take orders or direction and carry out strategies. The best client-agency relationships are built on mutual trust that is rooted in honesty and commitment to each other.

What are your three things you wish agencies knew? Send them to me via email or via Twitter at @OBrienPR. 

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