Establishing standards in relationship between an agency and itsclient

In today's corporations, procurement or purchasing departments are playing a greater role in agency selection and engagement. According to the Council of Public Relations Firms' Client Advisory Committee (CAC), a group of 30 corporate communications officers of major Fortune 500 corporations, procurement departments are seeking industry standards for contracts, non-disclosure, and conflict resolution. Therefore, under the guidance of the CAC and with the assistance of the New York law firm of Davis & Gilbert, the Council's Client Practices Committee (CPC) developed policy guidelines and templates that will set an industry standard for agreements between public relations firms, prospects, and clients.

In today's corporations, procurement or purchasing departments are playing a greater role in agency selection and engagement. According to the Council of Public Relations Firms' Client Advisory Committee (CAC), a group of 30 corporate communications officers of major Fortune 500 corporations, procurement departments are seeking industry standards for contracts, non-disclosure, and conflict resolution. Therefore, under the guidance of the CAC and with the assistance of the New York law firm of Davis & Gilbert, the Council's Client Practices Committee (CPC) developed policy guidelines and templates that will set an industry standard for agreements between public relations firms, prospects, and clients.

Recognizing that every firm and every client has some unique policies and protocols, these documents are offered as "industry standards

that establish a more consistent model for good commercial relationships among public relations firms and their clients. For example, the conflict and exclusivity guidelines represent an important step for our industry, and many of the documents include provisions to help provide greater protection for clients' confidential information, a key issue in matters of potential conflict. We are encouraging Council members, clients, and even non-member firms to adopt them as guidelines, tailoring them with the advice of legal counsel for the particular needs of their firms and clients.

Each document meets a unique need identified by the Council of Public Relations Firms' members, the CAC, and the CPC:

- The Agency Client Agreement offers a model for a solid business relationship that should meet the needs of most corporate public relations directors, their General Counsel, and purchasing officers while offering public relations firms certainty in their business relationships and the ability to apply their best resources on behalf of their clients.

- The Authorization to Begin Work is an important initial phase of a relationship, clarifying for the agency the available budget during the time the full agency client agreement is being prepared and staffed. The Council believes that no firm should commence work without a signed Authorization to Begin Work.

- The Potential Client Pitch/Joint Venture Submission Agreement provides agencies and clients with a document that establishes the ground rules for materials and work involved in a new business prospect or strategic partnership solicitation. It is strongly recommended that every firm participating in a pitch use this document so that the ground rules are clear and consistent.

- The Third Party Confidentiality Agreement addresses the ownership of work, ideas, and other forms of intellectual property that is provided by an agency to a business partner or other non-client.

- The Employee Agreement or Agreement of Ethical Standards addresses a range of measures that strengthen the relationship of employees with their firms, provides guidelines for securities trading in client stocks, and offers confidentiality protections to a firm's clients both during and after an employee's tenure with the firm. The CAC members strongly urged every firm to have each employee sign the agreement, and the Council Board has endorsed this action as well.

- The Conflict and Exclusivity Guidelines establish policies and procedures that address the often difficult questions of real and perceived client conflicts. This document is designed as a discussion starter should a conflict concern arise.

- For copies of these templates, visit the Client Services section of the Council's Web site at www.prfirms.org. If you're interested in learning more about the Client Practices Committee or the Client Advisory Committee, or if you'd like more information about joining the Council of Public Relations Firms, please visit www.prfirms.org, or call 877-PRFIRMS (877-773-4767).

- This column is contributed and paid for by The Council of PR Firms.

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