This week's PR Technique tackles the issue of defending an account. It's a topic that is definitely timely, given there have been several big account reviews in the past few months, including Philips and Wal-Mart. Whether these reviews come as a surprise to the incumbent agency is up for debate, but one thing is for sure: In the current environment, no agency is safe. A firm's years of experience and history with a client does not protect an agency like it once did. This is especially true as clients are being held even more accountable for their PR spend than they have in years past.
What this means for agencies is that defending an account is something that now needs to happen on a daily basis. Agencies can no longer wait until the big review comes up to justify the quality of their work and contribution to their clients' business.
In account reviews where the incumbent agency has not been successful in defending the business, reasons given by the client often follow a similar theme: the need for a change and new ideas. Though switching firms is a way to achieve that change, it is not the only way to do so. Often the incumbent agency has the capabilities and ideas to keep an account fresh, but do not communicate this to the client until it's too late.
Constant communication between an agency and client is essential to keeping business. And that communication should not be limited to the client's work. It's also important to keep clients apprised of new developments within an agency, including its staff and capabilities. In the current environment, companies are looking for ways to innovate their PR activities. But many times there is no reason to look outside of their current agency roster to do so. It's up to agencies to make that fact abundantly clear to their clients by providing new ideas for an account unprompted or sharing examples of innovative work that is being done on behalf of other clients.
A major concern for companies in the current economic climate is ROI. Much has been written about the importance of measurement, especially in a down economy, but it's something that bears repeating. Agencies should be going the extra mile to prove their work's value, perhaps even when it is not requested. Deciding terms of measurement at the beginning of each project is crucial to quantifying the agency's performance, and in turn, its value to the client. The resistance to measurement is often the cost, so it might be worth it for agencies to consider it as an investment, as it could be a deciding factor in keeping a client that needs extra convincing.
Agency reviews are a tedious process, something many clients likely would rather not endure. But it's up to firms to give clients a reason to stay – before they ever even consider leaving.