The trifecta of what clients want from firms

As consumers barrel down the road of evolving technology, marketing, advertising, and PR are barreling right along with them.

As consumers barrel down the road of constant change and evolving technology, marketing, advertising, and PR are barreling right along with them. Communications is an ever-changing business.  Clients and agencies need to keep up with and, ideally, stay ahead of  everything from media to mindset to behavior. 

In Pile and Company's agency reviews, we see how this climate has changed the dynamic of the client-agency relationship, and how consumer behavior and technology have changed what clients are looking for in agencies.

While there are dozens of measures brands prioritize when selecting a new agency, three areas continue to rise to the top across reviews of all sizes and disciplines: innovation, measurement, and partnership. Surprising? Likely not. But, it's not the measures themselves that provide insight into today's client-agency relationships; it's how these measures are defined.

Innovation - defining and executing.
For most clients, innovation isn't just about a great idea, it's the ability to develop and then execute that great idea. Clients expect PR agencies to not only demonstrate expertise beyond traditional media relations, but also have the wherewithal to execute new media tactics. If you recommend an increase in social media, be sure you have relationships with key influencers, such as bloggers, and the content to back it up.

If you're promoting an event, be versed in location-based media and ready-to-use social tactics. While these may seem like cost-of-entry steps, many PR agencies are not demonstrating this level of expertise and service in a review.

On the other end of the spectrum, select firms are going so far as to invest in full-time creative directors and technology groups to better position themselves as full-service partners - ones who can recommend a new approach and have the in-house resources to bring it to fruition. This is just one of the ways top PR agencies are evolving and committing to delivering innovation to their clients.

Clearly, clients and agencies agree that innovation is key to marketing communications. However, many partnerships are not having enough dialogue around what innovation actually means. If you are an agency, be sure your definition of innovation aligns with your client's brand and objectives. If you are a client, determine with your agency what constitutes successful ROI from a new tactic. Don't assume that everyone is speaking the same language.

Measurement - beyond clip counting.
For the last 10 years, ROI and results have been bandied about as important criteria for clients when selecting an agency.

Well, ROI and results have finally been promoted from buzzwords to something clients demand from their communications efforts. The PR firms winning business demonstrate how their programs tie back to hard business results. The conversation has moved beyond impressions and volume. Illustrating how your agency has the right staff and structure to define metrics is key.

Agencies need to prove they take measurement seriously and shouldn't be afraid to go back to basics to show they get it. Case studies may feel antiquated, but they are still one of the best ways to show how a program generated results through actual consumer acceptance, usage, and response.

Partnership - more than a soft measure.
Never has the ability to partner with other disciplines and agencies been more important. PR in particular is being judged by clients on its ability to move from a historically siloed discipline to a brand agency team member.

Demonstrating and quite frankly, living an approach and process that has PR working in tandem with, for instance, a digital media team is incredibly important to clients. Brands want agencies and disciplines to work together and believe a great idea can and should come from anywhere.

What a client wants from an agency may not seem wildly different from what they wanted 50 years ago. In some regards, it's not. An agency that smartly pushes the envelope, focuses on results thereby building its client's business, and works well as a cohesive unit will always be what a client wants. l

Meghan McDonnell is SVP of Boston-based Pile and Company, a management consulting firm with services ranging from agency reviews to creative staffing.

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