To the casual observer, those strong, lengthy relationships between PR agencies and clients seem to be based on an almost spiritual bond comprising chemistry, trust and hard graft.
Never one to be mystical, the PRCA recently examined exactly what comms directors look for at those tête-à-têtes between agencies and in-housers, and what it is that keeps them together through better or worse.
The number one attribute clients are looking for is "perceived knowledge of my business/sector" (71 per cent); followed by "chemistry/personality fit of team" (58 per cent); and "results for other clients/third party endorsement" (46 per cent).
People buy people – particularly in PR. But they also expect to see evidence of a strong track record from a team of people with good insight into their business and its challenges.
And how long does it take before the magic starts to fade? Retained relationships tend to last anywhere between three and ten years. The most frequent cause of client/consultancy relationships breaking down is "less impressive results from the agency" (71 per cent); followed by "less impressive creative ideas" (62 per cent); and "ineffective comms between agency and in-house" (46 per cent).
As many a consultancy can attest, once the channels of communication get clogged, your days are numbered.
The PRCA’s in-house members have revealed the following ten ways PR consultancies can win their business:
1 Do your research Understand the organisation’s mission and goals, and the current issues affecting it.
2 Know their competitors Come prepared with a brief competitive analysis. Show that you’ve done your research on competitors.
3 Use examples from their company Look at genuine comms issues the business has faced, discussing how you perceive they came about and how they were handled. Even if you are off the mark, it shows how you analyse a problem.
4 Know the team Get some background on who you will meet and what has been done before.
5 Tailor your presentation Don’t come in with a generic presentation that looks like it has been used for all pitch presentations.
6 Be honest Be transparent about your agency and don’t give the hard sell.
7 Show your creativity Impress with outside-the-box thinking.
8 Be outcomes-focused Be honest about the challenges and offer solutions, with a plan of how you will deliver outcomes, not outputs.
9 Be prepared to talk budgets Have a proper plan, including creativity, costs and review periods.
10 Cut the crap No platitudes, no clever jargon, just a proper understanding of the issues at hand and sensible, proportionate solutions.
Finding the right PR agency can be a stressful, time-consuming and costly process. That is why the PRCA provides best practice guidance through its free Find A PR Agency service.
Alison Clarke is UK CEO of Grayling and PRCA chairman 2012-2014