Siddhartha Mukherjee: Avoid divorcing your PR Agency!

16 Jul,2015

By  Siddhartha Mukherjee

 

The entire dynamics of hiring and firing of one’s PR Agency remains to be a mystery for me.

 

In today’s day, when Brand Storytelling requires domain and client knowledge along with customised skillsets which evolve over a period of time, I wonder if there is really a genuine need for corporates/clients to change their PR agency so frequently.

 

There was a time when the average numbers of years, a client-agency relationship would stay for, would be five years or more. Today, not only are the separation rates high, but, I am quite sure, that this industry average is nowhere above three years. Personally, I feel it is not a good sign at all. In fact, it smacks of contradiction.

 

Some random questions pop up in my mind:

a) Why do we hire/marry a PR agency? How do we position the PR agency within our organisation’s internal ecosystem?: The mix of reasons why a Client hires a PR agency ranges anywhere from weird to those that can be justified:

:: Competition has one, so we must too!

:: We need people for “Media Relations”! Postman job being one of them!

:: We need someone who can avoid/ manage negative media coverage crisis!

:: We need an event management and postman service!

:: We need a Brand Building Partner!

:: Inhouse team doesn’t have the bandwidth. Client’s in-house team will plan, PR agency  will execute

 

As for how we position the incumbent agency within our client organisation, well, the more meaningful the answer to the above question is, the more the CXOs and organization’s internal ecosystem will believe in corporate communications and its PR agency.

 

b) How do we hire?: An entrance exam sets the tone of the organization or a corporate you are planning to be a part of. What kind of filtration process a corporate/brand deploys to hire a PR agency speaks volumes about what its intentions are. The people involved, the type of quantitative and qualitative processes involved, the evaluation parameters etc. can go a long way in deciding how soon or late you may have to ask it to go.

 

c) Is our PR Agency a life partner or mere vendor:  How we treat and position our PR agency internally is very critical – especially, when it comes to our procurement department. They have a task of treating every service provider one as a “Vendor”! Their job is to look at the most sasta, not tikau (cheapest, not durable) available vendor option… does not matter what type of constructive role the service provider plays for our organisation. It is a rarity where procurement teams demonstrate immense domain knowledge and weigh the service providers not just in terms of pricing but more importantly in terms of merit and what they can deliver for the organisation. Given the role that PR plays for CEOs, CMOs and other CXOs, I hope that soon, there will be a day when the procurement teams will have clear internal mandate of differentiating  their procurement processes between likes of raw material/stationery/furniture vendors and those who are knowledge partners and build brands.

 

d) What are the possible reasons why we think of changing our PR agency?: Well, it is not that only PR agencies that let things slip away. Yes, instances of what they promise versus what gets delivered still has huge gap across industry corridors. While there are many quantitative and qualitative parameters to show to evaluate them, to our surprise, however, there have been cases where PR agencies have actually done a great job in some specific quantitative and qualitative parameters.

 

Clients too, have to reciprocate, supplement and compliment the relationship. They need to very clearly state:

:: Client’s objectives and expectations from the PR agency. Both monthly and annual.

o Objectives which can be very scientifically quantified and qualified

:: Both its business as well as the communication plans. Very rarely are these shared.

:: The information sets that will and will not be shared with the PR agency

:: Who are the spokespersons that the PR agency will be given access to:

o Regularly and in special cases

o Also, the guarantee that they will ensure spokespersons availability when needed

:: Historic as well as futuristic details of all critical/sensitive details that the company has encountered or may experience in the future

:: Lastly, and very importantly:

o Who will evaluate the PR agency’s performance? Will it only be corporate communication’s sole decision or a mix from CEO, CMO and other CXOs.

o How frequently will the evaluations be done?

o What are the clear quantity and quality parameters that will be used to appraise the agency?

 

It can well be that the PR agency is not clear in one or more of these above areas.

 

e) How do we strengthen our relationship with the PR agency?:

:: Mindset: This is first and foremost. There has to be a complete clarity amongst corporate communications staff and all CXOs on why a PR agency needs to be hired. Is it tactical? For media relations and postman’s job or are they going to be our life partners for brand building? Looking at long-term associations will ensure savings of costs that goes towards hiring a fresh agency, its orientation, et al.

 

:: Make your hiring process robust: Make the PR agency hiring process a comprehensive and exhaustive exercise that involves the CXOs and all the relevant departmental corridors of your organisation. Please remember, starting with this, you are telling others whether the PR agency is a vendor or a partner.

 

:: Enable the usage of quick and intelligent data: Between the client’s corporate communications desk and its PR agency, there should be regular and intelligent use of data – both for Research and Measurability/ Accountability purposes.  Giving your PR agency access to research data, competition moves, benchmarking techniques, planning techniques, audit methodologies etc. will go a long way towards fortifying the client-agency marriage. On-going/regular discussions between client and agency will be based on a common language, scientific expectations, measurable deliveries and mutually respecting parameters. Encourage your PR agency to place their argument with numbers.

 

On the whole, I see some great advantages if we sustain our marriage with our PR agencies:

a. Clients will need to give serious thoughts on creating a scientific, exhaustive and inclusive process of hiring a PR agency

b. This will force clients to think whether they want a vendor a partner

c. This will ensure that clients and PR agencies are mutually accountable to each other. Accountability with the spirit of partnership

d. This will further ensure that PR agencies deliver, the best stay and the weak or the incompetent ones ship out

e. This will result is more transparent, closer, regular and scientific dialogue between PR agency and clients

f. With industry consolidation, the ARPU per PR Agency will only rise.

 

Don’t let them go! Cherish and groom your relationship with your PR agency!

 

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