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The 10 golden rules of PR: Hilary Meachham, Focus PR

For brands and PR agencies to work together in the long term, it's essential to abide by a code of respect and dialogue from the off. After all, a successful business partnership is like a good marriage.

A marriage succeeds when both parties want it to work and they nurture the partnership to keep it fresh and rewarding.

Parallels with client/agency relationships are legion, but sometimes it can seem as though clients are from Mars and PR consultancies are from Venus.

Each enters into the relationship with good intentions, but, unless both parties fully understand upfront what those intentions are, the chances of a long-term, healthy and successful relationship are slim. Lack of clarity can cause irreparable damage.

AAR business director Alex Young says the three key characteristics of positive client/agency partnerships are: clear expectations; defined roles and responsibilities; and the ability of each party to listen to the other.

Steve Antoniewicz, managing director of Recommended Agency Register, spells out the importance of communication. 'If both parties are completely honest and open from the outset, then a partnership will have a far greater chance of success,' he says. 'If not, then tensions start to appear very quickly. Clients, you need to be honest and realistic with agencies (and with yourselves) about your expectations, objectives and budget. Agencies, you need to be straight about your experience, resources, what you can deliver and, of course, your price.'

Traci Dunne, consultancy manager at ISBA, advocates 'truly open lines of communication with regular evaluation of the relationship'.

She adds: 'This requires bravery on both sides to be honest about the direction in which a campaign is going and the behaviour within the relationship. It's all about working as a partnership, rather than taking a parent-and-child approach.'

This call for genuine collaboration is echoed by the client fraternity. 'I believe that mutual respect, brand understanding and passion are fundamental, as is a desire to be seen less as "client and agency" and more as a genuine team working together to drive brand success,' says Eileen Livingston, marketing controller, Courvoisier and imported whiskies at spirits distributor Maxxium UK.

Nicky Wheeler, director of The Affordable Art Fair, agrees. 'It's all about working together as a team, where everyone has a genuine interest in (what they are doing) and a strong understanding of the business goals, with ideas, problems and, most importantly, successes shared,' she says.

The true test of any relationship is the ability to talk about even the most difficult of subjects. Where PR is concerned, one of the most commonly encountered elephants in the room is many marketing professionals' ignorance of PR.

This is compounded by a tendency for agencies to use jargon or make assumptions to avoid embarrassing the client or itself.

As Dunne observes, it is essential to recognise the issue and address knowledge gaps if a campaign is to be effective and measurable. 'I have found that clients sometimes have only a basic understanding of how PR works and what it can do,' she says.

'Agencies should take the time to evaluate the extent of their clients' understanding of PR and try to enhance their knowledge so appropriate targets and objectives can be set. This will provide a platform for measurement and evaluation.'

There is much that agencies and clients can learn from one another, and both parties seem to agree that honesty and open dialogue from the very first contact are essential for success. In conjunction with our clients and team, we have put together 10 golden rules for a happy, productive collaboration between consultancy and client:

  • Form a partnership as business equals
  • Respect each other's expertise
  • Have both sides listening
  • Include the consultancy within the client team
  • Ensure both parties share information, facts and expectations from day one (product-immersion sessions, agreement on liaison, copy and budget authorisation, reporting and evaluation, etc)
  • Be brave, or be safe, but be clear which
  • Be honest about every component, especially budget
  • If the client is less experienced in PR, no problem - as long as it is open to learning
  • A written brief with defined KPIs and budget is essential for a professional, worthwhile dialogue
  • Be fair to each other (ultimately you are on the same team)

More than half of Focus PR's fee income is from clients with which we have worked in happy, rewarding and mutually profitable relationships for five years or more. This tells you something.

From Marketing's PR essays supplement October 2011

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