According to the new-age gospel, surviving in today's economy
requires partnerships. It's all about creating ecosystems with a zillion
Check out the wire services on any given day. You'll be greeted with an
avalanche of press releases touting the latest 'strategic partnership.'
In short, the meaning of the word 'partnership' has become so watered
down, it's practically a synonym for 'affiliate.'
At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, I have a simple perspective of
what makes the relationship between a client and a PR agency a true
partnership. It's an attitude in which each party cares about the
success of the other party, not just about its own success.
In striving to establish partnerships with clients, we always
communicate one specific expectation during the agency review process:
the client needs to take partial responsibility for the account team's
We make the point that we can do everything right as a company - provide
training and career advancement, build a positive environment, offer
competitive compensation packages, etc. - but there's no getting around
the fact that a key part of the account team's experience comes from
interacting with the client.
This doesn't mean we expect clients to roll over. Clients should demand
great work. We're demanding it of ourselves. The point is to treat
people as you would like to be treated, and when things do go awry to
take constructive actions.
I'm disturbed to see the number of cases in which clients beef up their
internal PR resources by poaching from their agencies. Not exactly an
action that contributes to an agency's success. I know of one specific
situation where the client hired away the bulk of its agency team,
chastised the agency for lack of consistency and eventually ended the
I recognize there's a range of philosophies that governs client/agency
relationships. Some clients are going to treat their PR agencies like
any vendor. Some agencies find such a setting works fine.
As long as both parties agree to the parameters, they're following the
right path. Just don't call it a partnership.
Lou Hoffman is president of The Hoffman Agency, a hi-tech focused PR
company based in San Francisco