Firms should encourage clients to plan ahead

For client-agency relationships to thrive, planning ahead is key.

For client-agency relationships to thrive, planning ahead is key.

"Plans tell you what you're trying to accomplish, who you want to reach, what you want them to do, and how you'll know if it worked," explains Dawn Wilcox, Allison & Partners' Los Angeles general manager.

Whether the plan is for a one-time project or a long-term program, she says, setting targets and goals provides both agency and client "with a road map ... and holds everyone accountable."

That advance-planning "road map" includes benefits such as enabling agency executives to "allocate team members to specific tasks where they will be most effective," Wilcox says. "If staff are being properly utilized, if they are being billed out at the [rate] that reflects their skill set and expertise, and if clients are seeing the direct impact of the PR team and positive results, then you have a successful agency business model."

One of the biggest consequences of not having a plan, said Wilcox, is when an agency is under the impression that it's doing the best it can on behalf of a client, but in fact it's "completely missing the mark because their expectations are either different than yours, or they have changed."

"If you don't set goals or plan, it lays the groundwork for different expectations of what is to be done on both ends," agrees Amy Lewis, principal of San Diego-based Strategy Communications.

This can result in over-servicing or under-servicing clients, and directly affects an agency's ability to take on additional assignments.

If clear goals are set, Lewis says, the agency knows exactly what to do to keep on track and stay organized. In addition, she adds, they allow the client "to see what you are working on and accomplishing," and give them something concrete to measure and evaluate work against. If the agency performs, the client will be satisfied.

"Ultimately, [plans] help the client see their ROI," says Lewis. But plans also impact "the well-being of an agency's business, because if expectations are met - on both ends - the client remains on the agency roster."

"You always want to make sure there's an ROI," said Joann Killeen, president of Los Angeles-based Killeen Furtney Group.

Tools to measure effectiveness, however, are just one part of a successful, strategic, and focused client-agency plan, she says. Other critical components include a discussion of various roles, barriers to success, and setting quarterly priorities - action-oriented initiatives that can be achieved exceptionally well - as well as agreeing on the expenses required long before an invoice crosses a desk in accounting.

Sometimes, Killeen adds, a PR professional will need to spell out to a client why advance planning is more than just a nice idea.

"A client may be so busy trying to get orders out and take care of customers, they [think] they don't really have time to develop a PR plan beyond 90 days," she says.

But if - as Allison's Wilcox suggests - a PR plan is a road map, "you are setting yourself up for total disaster" if you don't provide that client with accurate directions.

Killeen warns: "The reality is, it's all about business and making sure that you're on the right path to achieve the objectives you want to achieve."

Key points:

Advance planning ensures client and firm have harmonious expectations

Setting targets and goals help clients attain measurable objectives and see ROI

Strategic plans can ensure that there are no surprises come invoice time

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