You’ve completed the RFP process, narrowed down your shortlist of contenders, listened to a vast array of creative pitches and finally handed out the golden ticket to one outstanding agency. Congrats, you’ve reached the finish…err, starting line!
Whether you’re a veteran Communications Director who has worked with a variety of agencies or a non marketing/communications staffer responsible for managing the agency, here are some best practices that will get your new partnership off on the right foot.
1. Provide A Series of Deep Immersion Meetings
No one will understand your company, organization, internal culture and constraints like you do. Devote time and resources to ensure your agency has the necessary background and insight into as much as possible both relevant to the project and any personnel or departments impacting the project. Don’t limit this to a single kickoff meeting. Conduct a kickoff meeting and then a series of follow up immersion meetings that include area experts to surface all the nitty gritty details. This is critical and I ensure you that the effort will save time as your agency deep dives into their strategic planning phase.
During the first couple weeks of working with a new client, your agency is adjusting their approach in real-time to ensure they have the best possible team and resources in place to service your account. Keep the questions coming from both sides to make sure everyone has as much information as possible. The faster you can both learn each other’s desired work and communication styles, the better off you’ll be.
2. Establish Routine & Meet With a Purpose
Establishing regular weekly check-ins, status updates and monthly snapshot reports will save time for all parties involved. Don’t meet just to meet. Make sure that there is a specific reason a meeting is being held, that only the necessary parties attend and that a short agenda is in place with a clear call to action and takeaways/next steps. Too many big meetings up front can cause for quick budget exasperation and ineffective transition into quick deliverables.
Furthermore, learn each other’s communications preferences. You may find that you’re both early birds and can knock out quick responses or projects before most arrive for the day.
3. Get to Know Each Other Personally
You’re going to be working with your agency on a daily basis. Just as you benefit from knowing your closest colleagues on a personal level, the same applies with your agency partner. Understanding each other’s personal hobbies and interests will also inevitably provide insight into hidden skills or talents that can be of great use down the line for various projects.
4. Trust Your Agency
Agencies are chalk full of talented communications experts that work with a vast array of clients. In that sense, they bring a great deal of outside perspective and experience to the table. That doesn’t mean that every initial strategy will be spot on but it does mean that there is good reason and smart thinking backing ideas that are posed. Listen. Provide feedback. Adjust. Provide more feedback. Bring your agency over to help you present or sell-in an idea or creative concept to your boss. Let them take a stand and get your back so that there is clear explanation and rationale backing ideas presented.
On that same token, push back when an idea doesn’t feel right but provide full rationale. Was a key consideration overlooked or was there an important nugget of information that simply was not clearly communicated? Hedge early on what can evolve into bigger issues down the line.
5. Pose No Boundaries
Whether you are focused on a product launch, managing legislative affairs or looking for a new video idea, remove restrictions early on. Ideas can always be scaled down but you’re not doing your partnership justice by constraining thinking from the beginning. Chances are usually good that there is a way to support and fund an idea…if it’s the right one. Often, what we think of as “big ideas” can be broken down into smaller nuggets that can build over time.
BONUS: Celebrate the Milestones
Chances are good that you’ve hired an agency because you’re working to solve a difficult business problem. Big business problems are rarely solved overnight. Create a manageable timeline with milestones to help celebrate key success points together. Last, but never least, HAVE FUN!
What other tips would you add from the agency side?
Rachel Thexton recently provided some great additional insights around working with an agency over on Communications Conversations. Check it out!
Image courtesy of Wirawat Lian-udom.
The following is a guest post from my zombie-loving coworker, Justin Tsang (@justinjtsang).
Zombie apocalypse (ZA) is in. You can’t escape it.
The Walking Dead is one of TV’s biggest hits. Run For Your Lives, a 5K zombie obstacle course race, is available all over the country. Zombie-cons and zombie theme parks are spreading around the globe like…well, a ZA.
But what does a full-blown ZA have in common with modern PR? Surprisingly, they have a lot in common if you work at a PR agency. Let me break it down for you.
1. It takes a group of specialists to survive.
When living in the zombie-land, it’s all about the people in your group. You rely on them to get things done and to watch your back. You need them to survive and to stay sane as the world quickly slips into something you no longer recognize (more on this later). But the group needs to be more than a random collection of survivors. You need specialists that can use their expertise to benefit the group’s chances of making it out alive of the many sticky situations you’re bound to encounter. The same can be said for PR. With the ever-expanding definition of the industry, PR teams need to be increasingly versatile in order to stay relevant and competitive. Below is my comparative hit-list of must-have group members.
- ZA: Fearless Leader | PR: Fearless Leader – This is the only role that stays the same in terms of title. Both have to make calculated and gut-decisions that’ll affect their group or team. Only, the PR leader’s decisions will be a little more communications focused and less “should we explore this creepy, abandoned house for supplies” focused.
- ZA: Hunters/Gatherers | PR: New Biz Ninjas – The group’s gotta eat, just like the team needs new revenue streams. Thus, it’s important to have individuals that are skilled in acquiring what the collective needs to survive and grow. No matter if it’s raiding the grocery store in the next town over or landing that first meeting with a potential client.
- ZA: Risk Takers | PR: Creatives – I’ll argue that for the most part, everyone in a zombie survival group needs to be a risk taker, just like all PR pros should need to be creative in how they approach their work. However, a group can only benefit from a few stand-out (but smart) risk takers/creatives. They’re the individuals that are willing to go where others are hesitant to go. To try new things. To blaze new paths.
- ZA: Zombie Killers | PR: Media Relations Experts – Let’s not kid ourselves. The bread and butter of what needs to be done in a ZA is killing zombies. Sure you can run away from them, but sooner or later, you’re going to have to step up and get your hands dirty. And it helps to have someone that’s especially good at it. Same goes for PR. Media relations is still what PR is primarily about, and having experts on your team is a must if you’re going to keep on delivering results.
- ZA: MacGyvers | PR: The Digital and Tech-Savvy – In a ZA, how you utilize your available tools and surroundings can mean the difference between life and death. And having one or more MacGyvers can help you do just that. The digital and tech world are equally reliant on tools, but also on things like syntax, interfaces and platforms. Having people on your PR team who know this sometimes complicated subject matter can only improve your chances at producing leading-edge work.
- ZA: Realist | PR: Account Manager – Oftentimes, realists get mistaken for pessimists. This is wrong. Realists help keep groups safe and in-line in a ZA, because they act as the voices of reason. The devil’s advocates. After all, you need someone to tell everyone else that splitting up is not a good idea, regardless of how much more extra ground can be covered. A realist is similar to a PR account manager, in that they have their clients’ best interests in mind and aim to keep counsel and client work grounded and realistic.
2. Expect the unexpected.
In a ZA, you never know what to expect. A simple wrong turn or opening of a door could result a confrontation with a ravenous zombie that’s ready to eat your brains. Or perhaps a rival, less friendly group that’s waiting to ambush you for your precious supplies. It’s not so different in today’s fast-paced, competitive PR landscape. If you work at an agency, you’ve probably been in a situation where a competitor has come in and pitched some or all of your business. Or perhaps a situation where a client has decided to cut your budget in half. These types of turn of events are hard to predict, so it’s best to preempt by committing to innovation and delivering the best work possible at all times. Be alert, continually improve and keep your guard up so that you’re ready to pounce on new opportunities. Proactivity is key, regardless if it means elevating deliverables or never forgetting to pack your trusty ice pick.
3. New World. New Rules.
Everything you were taught about how the world and society works no longer applies. That’s how it is in a ZA. Beliefs need to be reevaluated. Rules need to be rewritten. And guess what, this applies to the modern world of PR as well. The industry is changing rapidly, with traditionally non-PR focuses like digital, social, design and advertising quickly being combined with PR to form a new breed of integrated marketing/communications. PR pros are waking up to find themselves in a marketing environment that’s centered on engagement and storytelling. If a ZA hits, it’s up to the survivors to re-establish the rules to best fit their new situation. It’s up to PR pros to do the same for approach and best practices in this new era of communications.
4. Getting bitten is bad. Don’t get bitten.
Whatever you do, don’t get bitten. Doesn’t matter who you talk to and how much they know about zombies, it’s universally known that a bite from a zombie means that you’ll eventually be joining the ranks of the undead. Bites spread the virus (or curse) of ‘zombiedom’ throughout you body, sealing your fate. And this unfortunate process not only affects you, it affects everyone in your group. Negative online virality is the equivalent to a zombie bite in today’s digital world. Because of social media, news travels at incredible speeds. Fortunately for PR teams, there are more measures they can take to handle bites than their ZA counterparts. Training for advanced reputation management and crisis communications is critical and I recommend it to every PR team. It’ll help you to not only react strategically to a crisis, but also proactively protect yourself and your clients from being the victim of the next viral catastrophe.
5. Diversified zombie killing skills are good. Look into it.
Like I mentioned earlier, killing zombies in a ZA is pretty much unavoidable. And the people who usually survive are the ones that are willing to explore new ways to dispatch those nasty flesh-eaters. Because chances are, there’s going to be a time when your weapon of choice, say your trusty rifle, jams or runs out of ammo…leaving you in a pretty tight spot. This concept applies to PR as well. Although it’s always important to provide an area of expertise to your team, there’s going to be occasions where a diversified skill-set can get you out of a bind, or perhaps allow you give additional insight. It only benefits your team if you specialize in more than one concentration. I see it this way: what’s better than being a deadeye gunslinger that never misses? A deadeye gunslinger, samurai sword master that never misses. That’s what.
6. Positivity is key.
Hope and optimism can be hard to come by in a ZA. It’s not surprising since survivors are constant dinner menu items for the world’s new dominant inhabitants. That said, thinking positively about the future can bind zombie survivors together and prevent them from giving up on their effort of creating a new world. This positive thinking is just as essential for the PR industry. It’s still rough out there because of the downturn and businesses across many industries are still feeling the crunch. PR doesn’t escape the ripple effect of this. Thus, I encourage you to promote positivity and optimism, as they can help keep you motivated to continue to innovate your craft and provide you with new ways to not only help your team to survive, but to thrive.
So what do you think? Anymore zombie comparisons to add? Let us know in the comments!
Image courtesy of JD Hancock.