Here's the thing. It doesn't matter how big, small or in-between sized client's are, identifying PR, social and digital media requirements and setting benchmarks and KPIs can be tricky. It's understandable too. What looks good to you, what defines success and what amounts to tangible results will vary from person to person and brand to brand. It also depends on the scope of works, the remit, budget and the direction received. But one thing matters. Agencies MUST arrive at a point at which they know, understand and accept your expectations as a client. It's easier than it sounds...BUT...
Here are 5 Tips to help you manage your agency, ensure they deliver the results you expect and, importantly, deliver a return on your investment.
1. WRITE A BRIEF
When you discuss ongoing plans with your agency, or appoint an agency, give them a proper brief. Too many meetings start with a conversation led by the agency about what they can do, or have done for other brands. Or, an opportunity presents itself along the lines of: "We're looking for a PR agency to do our PR."....whatever that means.
You want results, but what results? An agency should understand your aims and expectations, as well as your issues, challenges and commercial objectives. Your brief should set clear indications of where your brand is now, what you want to achieve, and by when. Be clear about the message you want to send to your audiences, who and where those audiences are and how you will measure the agency's effectiveness in delivering campaigns that achieve your aims. So, if you expect media coverage, blogger outreach and online coverage, specify that and give indications of the type of media outlets you ideally want to be in and how many placements you expect.
For social media, define what success looks like and how you will determine the agency's performance: is it the number of fans/followers gained, engagement, content quality and/or quantity and/or social marketing performance? Or all?
In order for an agency to come back with inspiring campaign ideas that get right to the heart of your aims and expectations, it needs to know what they are. The more clarity, detail and information you give, the more you'll get back. It's that straight forward.
2. DEFINE YOUR EXPECTATIONS & SET KPI's
It sounds quite simple, but you'd be surprised that even blue-chips sometimes fail to communicate their expectations. It's not a critical point because sometimes they just don't know what looks good or defines success. So expect your agency to help you by proposing realistic benchmarks that you agree are reflective of your investment. If an agency doesn't know what you expect, how is it ever going to meet your expectations, let alone exceed them? And if the agency fails to help you arrive at agreeable benchmarks, how will you ever know if they are performing?
To ensure you get good value for money and a return on your investment in an agency, make sure both parties arrive at SMART objectives; that's Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Targeted/Timely that can be a). revised to measure the agency's achievements and b). aligned to your investment.
We're sorry but we'll say it anyway. The number of times an agency asks: "OK, so you want to dominate the world and be the No.1 global brand by next month, so what's your budget." To be met with: "Well, how much will it cost?" No, no. So, when you next buy a house you speak to your estate agent and he/she say's: "Great, so what's your budget?" Do you reply: "Well I don't really want to divulge that, how much does a house cost?" The next thing you know, they try to sell you a £1m mansion when you only have £250k.
Let's be straight...agencies can only work with what they have to work with. Not being clear about your budget or investment capability puts the agency in an impossible predicament. We know this because we often get asked to pitch campaign ideas to show how we'd approach an account without any idea about how much investment the client is making. So, we are doomed to fail...if we do, which we don't. Why? Because we'd either pitch too low with ideas that fail to impress simply because we assume a lower investment capability than the client is expecting to make, or we pitch far too high because we assumed the opposite. Provide the agency with a maximum upper limit and you'll receive campaign ideas that are relevant to your investment. In other words, tell the estate agent you have £250k, and he'll show you a £250k house!
One thing worth mentioning. Give the overall budget which includes campaign investments and the agency's management fees. The agency's role is to create and execute imaginative campaigns, storyboards and initiatives that will inspire, influence and engage your audiences. Their fees must reflect the resources they deploy to deliver effective campaigns but you need to invest in the campaigns too.
So, your agency has blown you away with amazing campaign ideas and directions that have demonstrated they've understood your brief and expectations, and these ideas are aligned to your budget. As they implement them insist that they report to demonstrate the successful execution of your brief and are delivering what you expect of them. This also ensures the agency can be honest about the support they receive from you. Make sure, as part of the briefing process, that the agency knows when and how it is expected to report on its progress, so there is a clear process in place.
Remember the world is not a perfect science, so ensure your agency has a plan to address areas that may be performing below expectation and for activities that are exceeding what was proposed.
PR, social media, digital PR and paid for programs are part of a journey that constantly needs to evolve. If the strategy and plan, the implementation of your campaigns and results are in line with, or even beyond, what you expected, make sure the agency presents opportunities, ideas and executions that evolve your plan. Ensure they keep pace with changes in social media and digital environments and have the team and resources in place to deliver what you need. And make sure complacency doesn't creep in on either side.
Of course, there's more involved than the above, but we hope these tips help you to better manage your agency relationships, provide guidance for agencies you are speaking to and, at the very least, ensure your agency performs under clear instruction.
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