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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Six Key Categories for Gauging the Client/Agency Relationship

With Labor Day only five days away here in the U.S., it's almost that magical time of year again:  immersing yourself in the 2011 strategic planning process.

Yesterday, colleague Bill Bellows blogged about an easy-to-follow process (called OST, for Objectives, Strategies, Tactics) for creating business objectives:

  • Set objectives first
  • Follow objectives with strategies
  • Begin doing the actual work with tactics that drive strategies
OST simplifies the process of creating business objectives for organizations who may be starting from scratch.  And it's also useful for organizations who are revisiting their business objectives.  It's something companies who aren't satisfied with the status quo do regularly as a response to the twists and turns of the market they sell into.

While CEOs, CMOs and business development executives are preoccupying themselves with the business objective-building phase of the 2011 strategic planning process, their corporate communications teams are likely engaged in a parallel process:  evaluating the 2010 communications effort and their desired results for next year.

For the corporate communications pro, the 2011 strategic planning process will likely include a formal, or at least informal evaluation of their external communications resources, such as public relations agencies.  

Reviewing the annual performance of a public relations agency, or other marketing services provider, is a big deal.  Doing it right is time consuming and may take you away from your "day job" for a stretch.  And the results of the review could wind up creating even more work for the corporate communications team, i.e., a full scale agency review including the issuance of an RFP, the painstaking review of the RFP responses, the live presentations of the finalists agencies, the selection and buy-in from executives, etc.

Phew, I'm spent just writing about it.

Nonetheless, an annual review (again, at least informally) of your outsourced communications resources is absolutely necessary.  

But like Bill said in his post about OST, "this is not rocket science."

Reviewing your PR agency doesn't have to be rocket science either.  It just has to get done.  

To help you get started, I put together this list of six key categories for evaluating your agency:  
  • Does your agency team know your market at least as well as your internal team does?
  • Have the account team leaders taken the time to understand the pressures you face as an internal communications pro?  Or do they see the world only through their eyes?
  • Is your agency team visible?  If not, why not?  Are they too busy working on other accounts or pitching new business when they should be in your face?  Is your business important enough to them?
  • When do you see or hear from the senior-most agency executives?  Only when there's a problem or only when there's good news to share?  Or are they truly engaged with your business, in the trenches with the account team creating ideas and insights to propel your business?  
  • Is your agency listening to you?  Or are they hell bent on doing things only their way and pout when you insist on an alternative approach?  So, is your agency part of your team or are they their own team?
  • Does your agency do what they say are going to do? Is their follow through as strong as it was during the first three months of the account or has it tapered off over time?  Does this mean your agency team has become too comfortable?  
In the best agency/client relationships, any issue that comes up during a review shouldn't be a surprise to either party.  In the better relationships, communications are open and frequent enough so that major issues are dealt with as they erupt.  

But in too many agency/client relationships, issues are put on the back burner by one or both parties hoping they will disappear on their own. They rarely do.

What's the relationship with your agency like?

It's almost Labor Day and a good time to ask.

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