Familiarity with the client and a close working relationship are essential to build in the beginning of any client engagement. When the engagement requires that familiarity and relationship be developed quickly, or there is a need for close, integrated coordination of communications and decision-making, PR agencies and clients may want to consider placing senior PR staff on-site working at the client's office.
Having worked on-site with a large client, I have become a strong believer in its value for creating greater efficiency and quality in communications and in building a strong relationship with the client.
As one client, who recently had senior PR professionals working out of his office told me, “We didn't think of them as outside contractors; we thought of them as part of the team -- and we still do.” Such praise suggests the beginning of a long-term business relationship.
Being on-site facilitates frequent in-person, impromptu interactions with the client that provide an opportunity to offer strategic advice and recommendations as part of the ongoing, informal decision-making process within a business. These day-to-day interactions allow senior PR professionals to more accurately assess, understand, and anticipate client viewpoints, which develop and evolve after the formal agency-client meetings have concluded.
On-site work increases the efficiency and quality of communications. Senior PR and client staff members can work together as a team to reach agreement on plans and actions in real-time. More can often be accomplished in desk-side strategy sessions or hallway discussions than through the formal -- and sometime drawn out -- back-and forth of the recommendation memo/internal review/approval process that often occurs between client and agency.
Clients benefit from having an outside, more objective perspective. The on-site PR team can develop a more intimate knowledge of the client's business operations, key personalities, and corporate culture, which can be used in helping the client achieve their business goals. The on-site PR professional can suggest solutions to problems not included in the original contract, providing opportunities to expand the business relationship.
Despite the benefits of being on-site, professionals must maintain a clear and distinct definition of the scope of work that will be accomplished. While being part of the team makes a stronger relationship, it can potentially lead to requests for participating in work that is out of the scope of the contract – especially as the client begins to value you more. Be clear with the client at the start about the goals of working on site and the parameters of the work needed to achieve those goals.
We are a profession providing a service to our clients. It serves us and our reputations well when the client experiences and evaluates that service in person.
Greg McCarthy is SVP at Powell Tate, a division of Weber Shandwick. He recently spent 10 months working on-site at the U.S. Census Bureau on corporate partnerships and media relations in support of the 2010 Census.