Keeping tabs on agency partners

Corporate PR departments have systems in place to get the most from their agency relationships.

Corporate PR departments have systems in place to get the most from their agency relationships.

Whether a company has one PR agency or a dozen, managing outside help requires commitment and regular communication. The ideal scenario is to get agencies in sync with in-house objectives and systems.

"[Agencies] need regular contact and clarity on goals," says LuJean Smith, senior director of PR at Siemens Medical Solutions, which chose Coyne PR as its AOR earlier this year. "Establish clear expectations, right down to your dream hits. Be very specific [about] goals up-front. Set [clear] perimeters and scope of work. Assume nothing."

John Lampl, British Airways' VP of corporate communications, Americas, works with Porter Novelli, The Jeffrey Group, and numerous small agencies on various islands. "Stay in touch, and don't assume," he advises. "Give them programs and plans, [but] also motivate them to come up with plans."

The Absolut Spirits Company manages six firms. "We spend a lot of time making sure [agencies] feel empowered to run our business," says Jeffrey Moran, senior director of corporate and brand communications. "Agencies work in our office one day a week. It gives them a sense of the office vibe [and] what happens; and we can speak in person."

Siemens is a "large and complex" company and Smith agrees it's important to "help your agency navigate your internal political structure and be clear about what it's like." She adds that this also helps save time and money.

"Ask for visibility within the client's domain," Moran suggests. "For instance, I don't want an agency to think [it doesn't] know or understand the marketing team. When talent [is showcased to] the marketing team, they feel a certain sense of ownership. It helps the PR agency sell into them better. [And], it allows brand manager[s] to feel more ownership in the PR program."

Corporate leaders need to make clear personal preferences. "Understand what makes a client tick and how it operates," Moran adds. "I hate being copied in on all the back and forth on e-mails. Once I agree [on] a program, I have other things to do. I outsource because I can't handle [everything]. I don't want to answer questions like, 'What color do you want the invitation?'"

Monitoring and measurement are also key elements of agency management, says Smith.

"Establish a reporting mechanism - weekly or monthly - so you can keep a clear tab on what's happening and [know the agency is] focused on your priorities," Smith says.

"Regularly assess hours so you have no monetary surprises. Our agency reports hours in each area and we keep track to see if they're aligned with our priority. If something [is] off balance, we can investigate. Sometimes we find our internal people aren't responding in a timely manner. When we see those things happen, we can [fix them]."

Smith adds that it's important to have everyone involved on the same page.

"We have seven people in-house [and] they manage their own meetings with agency contacts once a week or once every other week," she notes. "I get in with the [agency] VP about every other week."

Moran stresses that agencies must precisely follow clients' internal billing and reporting procedures. Last year, for example, Absolut established a uniform briefing process, and its measurement system is consistent across five brands and six agencies.

"We're measuring apple to apple," he says. "We [also] have two recaps a year [wherein we] talk to all internal managers, brand teams, and PR agencies about mid-course corrections and key learnings."

British Airways gives agencies an internal and industry brief every day, and Lampl says it's working on a measurement system. "You can have the best marketing plans and computerize this and that," he says, "but I find you have to talk and eyeball each other."

Smith cautions about getting into situations "where your agency is managing you [or] knows more than you do." She also advises maintaining media relationships.

"We encourage feedback from reporters," she says. "We heard when we switched agencies that media was having problems. Make sure the agency is representing you properly and in a good light. Reporters [should] feel like they can call you when they're not getting what they need."

Technique tips

DO

Set goals, perimeters, and scope of work

Help firms grasp your business and fit in

Communicate often, establish procedures

DON'T

Forget to clearly communicate personal preferences

Lose media contacts

Let an agency manage you

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