When you’re used to selling yourself, and continually then having to prove yourself while the other person’s minimum commitment is picking up the tab, it took me off-guard, and I loved talking through some of what I’m going to talk through now.
If you’re hiring a PR agency, you’re agreeing to a relationship. Relationships need work – and not just in the early and exciting stages. Consistent communication, mutual respect, trust and empathy are all important, and the results are inevitably better when these things align.
Our first retained agency client, LoveAntiques.com, is still with us nearly five years on, and we’re still delivering great results. Our most recent story for them, from last week, is sat on 130+ pieces of coverage and links and, as I think about it, that’s no accident. They tick every box I’m about to describe.
So, here and in no particular order, are my top tips to be the best client you can be.
1. Provide the best brief you can
2. Set mutually agreed-upon expectations
3. Pay on time, or at least when you say you can or will
4. Have an interest in how and why PR works
5. Be accessible
6. Communication is everything
7. Tell your agency more than you think they need to know
8. Give your agency access to your analytics
9. Remember why you hired an agency
10. Celebrate the hits and learn from the misses
10 tips to have the best relationship with – and results from – your PR agency
Having been fortunate enough to work with hundreds of clients in my 12 years in PR, I’d estimate – confidently – that a third of potential clients have provided any sort of a written brief, at best. One in five might have a decent one. We’ve blogged before about what to include in your PR brief. From timings of decision-making to details about your previous and current marketing efforts, give the agency or agencies you’re talking to the best shot at impressing you. And for the love of all of the gods, put a budget if you have one. By which I mean, in almost every case upon agreeing to work together, we find that potential clients knew what they did and didn’t have to spend. Don’t be a Del Boy and you won’t get a bunch of plonkers.
Working on a proposal for one of the most perfectly written briefs ever! It includes all the information we need, isn't too long, asks for us to give an indication of what success looks like, timings and (drum roll) A BUDGET!
⭐️⭐️⭐️#PRagency #newbiz pic.twitter.com/5NXbgY3R99
— Jade Beddington (@JadeBedds) September 16, 2019
Setting KPI goals in your brief are all well and good, but sometimes, clients over, and even sometimes underestimate what can be done with the time they’re happy to pay for. So, work with your preferred/chosen agency to understand what good looks like. What are your ‘must-have’ titles, now or in the future? Are you in it for the SEO and site visibility benefits, the traffic, the opt-in data or just being noisy in a busy marketplace? If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve had a good go at benchmarking PR results here (based on our last 12 months of work), speaking tactically and in terms of coverage/links.
Our payment terms are in advance of work, at the beginning of each working month. I’m proud to say that – I believe in the service we sell. Do clients still pay later, especially as their time as retained clients roll on, and when Karen in accounts goes on holiday and forgets to set up the payment? Absolutely. But the best clients in terms of the rest of this list tend also to be the ones that pay on the agreed-upon date, each month. I’ll sound all Don Corleone now, but it isn’t just about the money. It’s about the respect.
A lax attitude to payment, failing to communicate when you can and will pay if, for whatever reason the payment date doesn’t work, or worse, failing to pay when you’ve asked to change that date, is rude at best unless there are extenuating circumstances and incredibly disrespectful at worst.
We’re fortunate to have a great bunch of clients in terms of this right now, but it’s definitely been painful at times, especially towards the beginning when I wasn’t perhaps so communicative around this for fear of pissing clients off.
The best clients I’ve ever worked with wanted to know what we were doing, why we were doing it and what more could be done from their side to ensure it worked. Be a sponge. Be passionate about learning, because our team will be doing the same in your sector or area of business – you never know when that bit of seemingly useless information might prompt a reactive story idea. We have had key client contacts come in for the day to learn more about how we work, and it undoubtedly makes for a stronger and more understanding relationship on both sides.
Ask your agency if they’ve seen or are using a certain tool, or have spotted a particular Google update. They should have, but if they haven’t – and nobody’s perfect and can know everything, it can only improve a working relationship. I’ve often found that the more interested people are in how we work, the more trust they have in it. It also helps that I can say to clients, from the off – ‘hey, want to know what we do, why we do it and almost have a blueprint to working with us as an agency? I’ll fire it over, read or listen to my book Myths of PR, it’s a few hours well spent!
A simple one this, but an important one. The media move quickly. If we say Sky News is looking for an expert contributor, you can be sure they will be inundated. If you’re accessible and we’re doing our job, you’ll get a reputation for being reliable. Results will undoubtedly be better if you’re quick to respond – which is one of the main reasons we use WhatsApp groups for every client, with everybody needed from both sides on it.
Assign key points of contact from the off and empower them. Startups and businesses going through quick growth might struggle here, as a senior team member or founder often wants final sign-off, despite understandably being pulled in a million different directions. It can impact timings and ideas approval, sometimes leading to watered down concepts. Communication and approval breakdowns can also happen in big organisations when responsibilities aren’t clear.
Another benefit of WhatsApp is you lose the formality of email, and can actually get to know the personalities of the people you’re working with, but even if you’re not using a messaging app, try not to just speak to them only when you need updates. Have phone calls, arrange face-to-face meetings, get lunch, have a drink. It all helps.
You know that weird search quirk you’ve noticed, where more people have searched for a certain product or service one morning and you’re not quite sure why? TELL YOUR AGENCY. Chances are, there’s a good editorial reason, or… we can find one, and it might make for a good story! Or, you know that new initiative you’ve started internally that’s gone down really well but you just assume everybody already does it? Again… tell them! At the very least, they’ll be able to consider what to do with it, and how best to share, if at all. And we promise we’ll do the same – if we notice something in your analytics that jumps out, we’ll be asking you about it. Which brings us nicely onto…
I used to get push back from clients on this, like ‘god no, that’s sensitive information!’. Well, as above, results can be better if we are added to whichever tracking or data tools are important to you.
From Google Analytics through to the SEO tools you swear by, we want to know how our work is impacting you and your business, and we’ll learn how to use it if we don’t yet know how to. There’s an honesty to it, and, especially for marketplace orientated/e-commerce clients with millions of demographic specific data points, it’s one of the first places we go to pull story ideas.
Chances are, you hired an agency because you didn’t have the a) time or internal resources to dedicate to PR, whether that’s on a retained or a project basis and/or b) you wanted to benefit from their expertise.
I get that many businesses and individuals have been burned by agencies in the past. It’s a story we hear constantly – and means we’re often on the back-foot, almost being expected to apologise for something we didn’t do. But, remember that you bring an agency on to act as an extension of your team. Everybody is, or should be, pulling in the same direction and wants the same things – if you’re happy as a client, you stay, put simply. That’s enough motivation for me, and us.
I’ve talked publicly about the need to ditch the ‘we’re only as good as the last story/month’ sentiment I’ve worked under since starting in PR. I’ve written about it, talking about all the ancillary benefits of our work, even.
But it’s hard, and I still have doubts about it, being the competitive person I am and running the agency as I do.
Every agency owner knows the pain of a retained client, not one month after a campaign has absolutely flown, making it known that they’re not best pleased about recent results, because expectations are hard to manage. We have one client whose results were so good in the first couple of months, that I silently knew we’d painted ourselves into a corner. Inevitably, things evened out (and were still above our average results as per the above 12 month report from point 2) and the client said, and I quote ‘well, recent results have been crap, haven’t they?’. They hadn’t been, and it was actually one of the reasons I wanted to do the report, to demonstrate that we were delivering well still.
That said, will you have fallow months? Will stories fail when we all expected them to fly? Absolutely. Any agency that says otherwise is lying to win your business. There are too many extenuating factors, and nothing but our time, knowledge and conscientiousness can be guaranteed.
(If you want guaranteed results, talk to us about Radioactive Talent or pay for paid social ads. Hey, we’ll even manage them… 😄)
If you, as a client, can learn to celebrate the wins, and look into what contributed to those as much as you might dissect the things that don’t quite work, you’ll make for a dream client.