If you’ve never hired a PR agency before, chances are that when it comes to understanding the potential value that it can deliver you’re sitting in one of two camps:
You’re either a media evangelist who recognises the power of independent third party endorsement and the chance to get talked about when you’re not in the room. If you haven’t had a chance to hire an agency yet, it’s probably because of budgeting, internal company politics, team education or some such.
Or you are deeply sceptical about the potential value that PR can deliver. Put another way, you’re just not sure if it will work.
What’s interesting from an agency perspective is that there really is no middle ground. It’s one or the other. There’s either an enthusiasm to get started – or there’s a healthy scepticism that persists.
Irrespective of whether you’re sitting in one camp or the other – the reality is that until you actually get started, you’re not going to know for definite what impact a PR campaign will have on your business. You won’t know how quick it will deliver results, you don’t know how the media and those third parties will interpret and communicate your message and you don’t know what financial impact the campaign will have for certain, on you and your business.
And acknowledging that – particularly if you’ve never hired an agency before, or if you’ve have had a negative agency experience in the past – can be a huge obstacle to overcome.
And yet it can and is consistently overcome by companies signing up with new agencies every day of the week. What makes them make that leap of faith? Why do they choose to buy? Especially when, in reality, and despite the strongest agency assurances, ultimately nobody really can tell them for definite what the impact of their investment will be?
When it’s broken down into its composite parts – what really drives the partnership forwards is one thing and one thing alone – trust.
The importance of building trust
When it comes to executing an effective PR campaign, trust drives everything. Trust is where it all begins and ends. It’s the point of engagement and the moment when everything gets started. Why?
Because with trust, what really happens is that a partnership is formed. A partnership that’s not just a one-way supplier/contractor relationship but that’s something a little deeper. Something that enables both parties – agency included – to open up and talk candidly about the campaign and about the commercial drivers behind the customer’s – your – business. In fact, this openness is something that I’ve likened to seeing a therapist and honestly, I stand behind that thinking, now more than ever.
And it’s this ability to build trust that is really one of the strongest directional signs and indicators that will enable you to understand the impact that a PR campaign can have on your business. Get it right (open up and share information, not just once but consistently!) in an open manner and you’ll build up bucket loads of trust with an agency. That in turn, provides that very team with an arsenal of commercial intelligence and context about you and your business that can be used to help influence and shape the direction and strategy of the campaign.
To be clear on this point – your agency isn’t sharing all that commercially sensitive information with the market! The opposite in fact.
Having been handed the full, unabridged version of your commercial and marketing strategy, your comms team is using this to develop a powerful and compelling message to take to market. A message that’s not going to unintentionally unravel itself because of a lack of foresight of commercial visibility. Instead, it’s a message that takes a much more informed approach – and that has a huge impact on your short, medium and longer term campaign investment.
But it’s not just establishing trust with a campaign team that helps you better understand the impact that an investment in PR will have on your business. For there is another major campaign driver at play - the ability to develop and maintain strong internal agency-client communication.
The value of agency-client communication
Sounds easy, right? Surely maintaining strong levels of communication is like falling off a log? Everyone can do it – no problem!
Well, not so fast. Indeed, the real challenge with agency-client communication is not with setting it up but rather, with maintaining it. And by that, I mean, maintaining it at a strategic level.
If it’s not managed properly and sufficiently understood, in these instances, what typically tends to happen is that an (over?) enthusiastic team member drives forward with establishing an agency relationship, puts in place a competitive tender, selects the most appropriate agency, kicks things off, imparts the strategy, undertakes some early messaging work and then, quickly, disappears from view…
Responsibility for maintaining the relationship quickly shifts downwards through the internal team. With it, so too does the level of commercial awareness and strategic visibility within the business. The agency relationship suffers, as agency visibility of the commercial drivers drop. Campaign messaging softens and becomes misaligned from the positions of the senior client team and frustrations on both sides escalate.
The net result? At best, the commercial impact of the PR campaign dips – at worst, the value of the initial investment fails to be realised. And all this because of poor agency-client communication.
This stuff happens. It doesn’t happen all that much – but when it does, the pattern starts forming early and from an agency’s perspective, the impetus on any reputable firm is to stop the slide dead in its tracks.
Regular client reporting and putting in place a clear set of metrics helps. As does regular team time to check back and discuss commercial updates, challenges and opportunities – either as a regular conference call or better still in person, if logistics permit.
Public relations isn’t a quick fix
To my mind, acknowledging that PR, unlike so many other marketing disciplines, isn’t a quick fix, is the final piece that loops back to this question of impact and understanding the sort of impact PR will have on your business.
A long term strategic approach works best when it’s fully synchronised with the commercial aims and objectives of you and your team. As Roland puts it, that means a constant reminder:
It’s PR and not ER.
We are not an emergency room. PR is not something that provides an instant fix.
Sure, it can solve some large problems pretty quickly. It can build heaps of brand trust and brand value – and it can serve as a handy lead generation tool too. However, it’s not a magic wand. And as you weigh up the impact that PR can have on your team and on your business, it’s important to remember that. Set those expectations, go in with your eyes wide open and do it right – and I assure you that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Oh, and one more thing. If you do nothing else right now – stop for a moment and think – when it comes to understanding PR agency value, in which of those two camps do you currently sit?