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Clients Have Responsibilities in PR Program's Success

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

How often do you read about client/agency "divorces"?

Every CEO, marketing, communications and agency head worth his or her salt reads them regularly. The reasons for the divorce are always the same--"the agency didn't understand our products, our management, our objectives"..."our goals and directions have changed (new management team)"..."we needed to punch up the quality of our PR activities."

Even though the promotion of a company and its products/services is a team effort (the agency and the client it represents), it is always the agency's fault. New bosses seldom replace everyone in the company, but an agency change is always "for the better." Or, the company becomes disenchanted because the agency is reluctant to do more work when the client has become slow in paying its bills.

The agency's main job is to increase the client's visibility in the marketplace or to create new market opportunities. That job can't be done alone.

Unfortunately, clients often think their only responsibility is to hire the agency and then sit back and watch the PR people "do their thing." This attitude rears its ugly head in a variety of ways. For example, the company demands a "rush "job, forcing the agency to meet near-impossible deadlines. The agency does its best. Then, rush jobs become the norm, rather than the exception. For some "unexplained" reason, the client/agency relationship begins to deteriorate, and enthusiasm for the firm's projects wane.

True, the agency's responsibility is to do its very best for the client. However, companies have to realize that they have responsibilities as well. These are relatively simple responsibilities such as:
  • Define goals/objectives, and have a marketing plan

  • Maintain open lines of communications at all times

  • Respect the agency as a group of professionals who provide specialized service and deserve to be paid for those services

  • Make a commitment to the agency
Would you believe it? Some companies actually go about hiring an agency even though they don't have a clear, concise marketing plan. Certainly, it's the agency's job to promote the company, its products, and its concepts but before they can carry out an effective campaign, some basic company marketing information is needed.

Provide information such as: What is the target market(s)? What is the company's key competitive differentiators? Who is the competition (direct and indirect)?

Even a simple marketing plan is necessary to define these objectives and goals. Without a plan, the company has no possible way of measuring the results achieved by the agency.

Communications. It's the key to a mutually profitable relationship. Company management has to be willing to tell the agency its specific needs and desires. Without knowing management's expectations, it's impossible to meet the goals.

To create an effective campaign, the agency has to know everything about the product/service--how it works, its benefits and features, its shortcomings, its channels of distribution, as well as products and features offered by the competition. It's impossible for the agency to learn this information by mind reading or through osmosis.

The client doesn't bear the sole responsibility for keeping the lines of communications open. The agency has to keep the client abreast of each project. If this is done, management is less likely to demand unreasonable deadlines or misunderstand the steps required to complete a project.

On the other hand, client's cannot procrastinate in approving a project. Such delays prevent the agency from meeting deadlines--or worse yet, cause cost overruns.

Ideally, there is one responsible person at the company with authority to approve the work prepared by the agency. Comments, suggestions, and ideas can originate from anyone inside or outside the organization, but only one person should be responsible for crystallizing the ideas. "Copy by committee" doesn't work. It dilutes the effectiveness of the effort, delays actions and approval, and ultimately prevents success.

The biggest cause of the "sudden" client/agency divorce occurs because the team doesn't have total communications. The agency is going along fat, dumb, and happy under the delusion that what they are doing is correct and appreciated when, in fact, the opposite is true. The client has to provide positive and negative) comments and regularly update the agency on changes in budgets, priorities, product designs, product direction, target markets, etc.

Respect for the agency's capabilities is essential for a good working relationship. An agency can be a valuable consultant--one specializing in communications as well as editorial, channel, analyst and consumer relations. But their job involves more than just release writing/distribution, press kits, trade shows and article/white paper production.

Agencies can conduct market research, devise strategies, and give clients an unbiased, well-planned program. Clients who appreciate the work involved in preparing the campaign are more likely to understand precisely what they are paying for.

When it comes time to pay the bill, the client looks at a piece of paper, tape, or a film/video tape and sees big numbers, rather than a quality product. But there should be no surprises.

Agencies should discuss quality levels and costs (including costs of changes and corrections with management before initiating the project). An unpaid bill, or series of bills, puts needless strain on the relationship. It keeps the agency from concentrating on its central mission--the campaign.

Commitment is the client's final responsibility. They have to believe in the concept or product the agency is promoting. They must allocate enough money to market, position, and promote the product properly. Ad, promotional, and PR campaigns--even highly effective ones--don't achieve instant success. If the agency has produced a creative, consistent campaign, the client has to be willing to see it through.

Commitment also extends to the client/agency relationship. Right from the outset, both parties have to want to work together as a team, with the agency functioning as an integral part of the company organization.

If the company is successful, the agency will also be successful. But, both partners have to meet their responsibilities.

© Copyright 2003, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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