As a business-minded communications professional, you’re no doubt looking to optimize your branding and marketing assets. To some, this means getting the most from your available resources and channels, including your agencies and marketing partners. But optimization doesn’t always equate to “most.” In fact—and in terms of your agency—I believe it should relate and equate to “best,” instead. From my perspective, having spent time in management roles on the agency side and the client side, here are some tips on how to get the best from your agency.

Realize the Potential of “Partnership”

From the agency side, the experiences and mindset of being considered a partner versus an implementer are drastically different. As a partner, your agency team will naturally feel more “vested” in the success of your overall program instead of focusing on the successful delivery of a project. In this model, as a core member of your marketing team, the agency will more generously offer “free consulting”; be willing to attend more meetings; provide more brainstorming; and will look for deeper opportunities to think and work strategically on your behalf. Even if some of these contributions require additional dollars, plan for “partner-like” services in your budget, because this area—though not often considered by clients in reviewing ROI—can offer huge value. Don’t miss out by “boxing-in” your agency. Invite the team to the table in strategy, planning and concept development discussions. This is your “partner,” so treat them as such and receive the benefits.

Let the Pros Be the Pros

When it comes to your content and execution, let the PR professionals handle it. There are two areas where they typically excel. One is media relations, and the other is writing/messaging. Give them room to operate. Of course, you may have specific brand and positioning language for your product, service or company, but the PR pros know how to use it. Better to put their time (and your budget) to use to initiate drafts for review than for you to take that on and shepherd it over to them to refine. Agency teams appreciate and thrive on your trust in them.

Be the “Good” Client

No agency likes working with a “bad” or “tough” client. I’ve found the best approach is to be genuinely interested in their success within your program. This means guide vs. dictate; listen vs. instruct; teach vs. scold. Stay in touch with them regularly and keep them updated on developments within your organization. Return their calls, texts and emails as promptly as you can, answer their questions and provide the input, images, etc., that they need in a timely manner. Remaining positive and responsive ensures that your agency always keeps pushing for you and aiming to please. Be a true “partner” yourself and help them succeed so you can succeed.

Opt for Flexible, Fixed Pricing

It may be hard to image that a payment model would be one way to get a good return from your agency, but it’s true! The best solution I’ve found is one that’s sort of a “win/win” for both client and agency. It’s having a fixed monthly budget in place backed by a defined statement of work. And it’s pretty easy to manage.

If you take your annual agency budget and subtract the hard costs that may be required to work with your agency (paying for their travel costs to events, their purchase of specialty supplies, etc.), what you’re left with is the amount the agency gets from their service hours. That’s what you’re buying from them and that’s what they’re selling—their time (priced at the level of expertise and senior members you wish to engage with).

Your budget, then, after hard costs, can be divided by 12 and become your monthly program amount. It establishes a baseline and/or a “run-rate” for your program. This does a few things:

  1. It allows you to manage to a budget that can support efforts all year long vs. running out of budget too early.
  2. It allows the agency to better plan its revenue and staff your account.
  3. It helps your finance team easily understand your quarterly spend for planning purposes.
  4. It can eliminate constant production, review and approval of estimates for the variety of products and services you’ll purchase each month.

From both the agency and client side, I’ve always opted for this approach, with assurances on flexibility. By planning ahead and setting out all deliverables for the year, both sides know what to expect. This will be especially important if you have a few major events or initiatives planned in any given quarter. A defined scope allows you to pay the monthly rate even though a particular month may use more hours than the average monthly plan calls for.

This means, if Q2 is particularly heavy, you would have an amount technically “owed” at more than the quarterly allotment (in essence, you’re borrowing against the next month’s retainer). This can be made up then in the following slower months. Or, you can set the pace to use fewer hours than you’re paying for on a monthly basis, then pay forward leftover (or saved) amounts to the quarter with the larger amount of needs. It makes budget tracking and billing approval much easier.

No matter how you envision the flow of work in your program, a fixed monthly payment model can offer significant flexibility and process efficiencies.

After many years on both sides of the fence, I’ve found all of the above areas to be key from the client side when wanting the best from my agency. Perhaps you will, as well.

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