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How To Get The Best Results When Working With A PR Agency

By John F. Marino

PR at its worst can be a tough thing to witness. It’s never fun to see agencies try to spin their own clients—working to convince them that this or that tepid result is actually a tremendous success, if you look at it in a certain way.

Luckily, most people who engage PR companies are spared the worst. But that doesn't mean they're getting the best, either. The PR experience exists on a spectrum—and it's up to both parties, agency and client, to make sure the value of the relationship is being maximized.

Here at Marino, 30 years of experience have granted us some insight into what makes the PR relationship work. Obviously, PR isn't a science, and when it comes to press coverage there are never any guarantees. Still: there are a few relatively easy things that businesses can do to ensure they're getting the most out of their chosen agency.

Define what success looks like for your company

Sometimes a company will engage a PR agency and say, effectively: you know how this works; it's in your hands.

It's a sensible impulse: press-fluency is its own skill, and if the business-people had it, they wouldn't need to engage with a PR firm in the first place. But the fact is, nine times out of ten, the agency-client relationship yields the best results when the client is actively involved in the process. 

Fundamentally, that means defining what success looks like at the very start of the process. Ask yourself, right up top: what is the ideal outcome of this relationship? Are you looking for increased sales? Higher visibility among this or that target demographic? Mentions on this or that consumer tech site? Whatever it is, let your agency know, and judge their efforts accordingly.

Flexibility—the willingness to realign when things aren’t working—is an essential part of this process. PR is an unpredictable game, and even the most competent account managers in the world will still sometimes fail to hit your desired targets. Oftentimes, it's out of anyone's control. But if the relationship is open and bi-directional, you should be able to discuss those failures, figure out what the problem is, and realign accordingly. The goal is to always be working towards tangible results.

Get a better sense of your ROI through customized KPIs

"Impressions," as a visibility metric, can be a crude tool. Big numbers tend to impress, which is why many agencies like to lead with them. Look, they'll say—an outlet with 20,000,000 unique monthly visitors featured your product in a roundup!

Now—did all 20,000,000 of those people actually click the roundup in question? Probably not, no. Some percentage did, surely—more than would have on a website with, say, 5,000,000 monthly uniques. But to imply that all of those people encountered your product is ludicrous.

That's not to say impressions don't matter—they do. But it is to say that they don't tell the whole story. To really understand how your product is faring in the broader media landscape, you're going to need a much more complex benchmarking and reporting infrastructure.

Niche, custom-tailored KPIs—fueled by data-driven insights—can help to clear away some of the mystery that attends the traditional PR process and help businesses get a firmer grasp on what their monthly retainer is going towards.

Treat your agency like a true partner in the process

Ultimately, the agency-client relationship is no different than any other kind of relationship—which is to say, it can only thrive when both parties are operating with full transparency and good faith.

On the agency end, that means setting realistic expectations—being honest and upfront about what is and is not possible, without condescending to the client or suggesting they know everything. On the client end, that means being upfront about timelines, deliverables, internal issues, etc.

It might sound like a cliche, but in this instance it happens to be true: the key to quality communications is communication

Again: nothing in PR is ever guaranteed. That's part of what makes the process so thrilling: the wins wouldn't be as satisfying if you could reliably forecast them in advance. Still, you can absolutely put yourself in a position where those wins are more likely. In my opinion, that means making the process as concrete as possible—because at the end of the day, it's the results that matter most.

Everything starts with a conversation.

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