The importance of a healthy agency partnership

If you're lucky enough to be in a position to hire extra outside help for your efforts to enhance your reputation and accomplish important business objectives, be sure you're well prepared and know what you need.

If you're lucky enough to be in a position to hire extra outside help for your efforts to enhance your reputation and accomplish important business objectives, be sure you're well prepared and know what you need.

Several years ago, I headed off to New York with the hope that we could do more to increase our in-house PR efforts. I met with myriad talented PR pros who have strong healthcare experience. Most of their recommendations included things that we already do well – healthcare PR. It was somewhat awkward because we didn't need someone to duplicate our efforts.  

Since then, our coverage has continued to grow year over year. In turn, so has our in-house team – nearly 40 media, PR, and communication professionals. Once again, however, I find myself asking how can we raise the bar, push the envelope, and continue to grow our PR efforts?

I met with my team to brainstorm some big ideas and made a “wish list” of what we would we do if we had the extra resources. Cleveland Clinic has an international reputation, with nearly 2,000 employed physicians and researchers and roughly 42,000 employees that include operations in Canada, United Arab Emirates, Florida, Nevada, and Ohio. The sky is our limit. We identified a dozen or so areas where there was truly a need.  

We don't have the time to handle some of those efforts in house, even though they would certainly enhance the quality of our work. Those areas include deeper research on important issues, identifying emerging trends well in advance, time to truly plan ahead, and building media relations in new or overseas markets. What I learned is that we can raise the bar, but would need the extra resources to make it happen.  

We quickly realized what so many organizations have – choosing the right PR firm is critical for success. If you're weak at crisis communication, be sure the firm you select can serve as your backup. If you're needs go beyond traditional healthcare PR, look for a firm that can do a variety of things, such as develop community PR campaigns, organize a speakers' bureau, or help you develop key partnerships. A true agency partner can also help you find new ideas – things you haven't tried before – that work outside of the healthcare sector.

Make the best use of your relationship with a PR firm. Look for creative and energized people who are excited to be a part of your organization. Have a comprehensive document that provides them with your core strengths, weaknesses, goals, and clear measurable objectives. Work closely with your firm to determine the roles of the in-house staff and outside team so they work effectively, productively, and in concert. Some of the work is best done inside and some outside. Ideally you want to partner with a firm that is most complementary to your organization so you can achieve what you really need.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic, one of the country's top nonprofit academic medical centers. Her column focuses on the myriad challenges of healthcare PR and topics related to the management of the comms function. Sheil can be reached at sheile@ccf.org.

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