I recently got out of what I can honestly call a bad relationship—with a client.
In all my professional dealings, I make it a point to learn something from all experiences good or bad, some takeaway to ensure that our firm continues to operate at the high standard our clients have come to expect.
In this case it was a simple lesson: Sometimes you just end up with a bad client. Ideally, working relationships between client and agency should be functional, providing a successful experience for everyone involved.
Here are some suggestions for how to structure a productive client/agency relationship:
1. Educate the agency.
At the outset of any client engagement, we always conduct a “brain dump,” an intense session that lasts at least four hours and is specifically designed to bring our agency fully up to speed on everything happening with the client. This includes pending activations, launches, goals, past successes and failures, and includes basics such as preferred reporting structure and fundamental tools.
Education is a certainly a two-way street. The client should be completely forthcoming with information needed for success, and the agency should be ready and able to sift through the information. It also has to ask the right questions.
Make sure to set and keep regular meetings so communication continues.
2. Designate the right person to be the agency contact.
If there’s no in-house PR person, what frequently happens is the designated agency contact ends up being the “low person on the totem pole,” because that’s the person who may have time others do not or some sort or tangential background that’s kind of like PR. This is a mistake. The regular contact needs to be someone who:
• Can convey information and answer questions posed by the agency;
• Has the ability to manage the agency effectively to make sure the activities match the brand goals;
• And—probably most important—is empowered to make decisions.
Without this person in place, the firm is typically in a stalled position, waiting for the contact to ask the right person or check in on what’s happening.
3. Be involved and stay involved.
Good PR can’t happen in a vacuum. Once the firm is hired, don’t go away and wait for all the great press to come rolling in. You’ve hired your firm to help you reach your potential audience. The decision was an important one, and you want to make sure that your agency partner is doing what you need them to do.
[RELATED: Ragan's new distance-learning site houses the most comprehensive video training library for corporate communicators.]
An agency is not to blame if you didn’t communicate a course correction or share all your business strategies and goals. Staying involved will help ensure that your agency is doing and will continue to do the things that best serve your needs.
Maintaining relationships of any kind requires communication and a willingness to work at it. Just as you can’t expect your spouse to read your mind, you can’t expect your agency to intuit what’s important to your company unless you keep it in the loop. It’s simple, but like all relationships, it takes work.
Ed James is president/co-founder of Cornerstone PR. You can follow him on Twitter @edwjames.