How often can a company say it has reached a state of harmony with its B2B PR or marketing agency partners? And, why should it care one way or another?
It’s quite understandable for a firm to think something along the lines of: “We pay them a fee to do stuff: so, DO stuff!” Surely, that’s the expected quid pro quo in the client-agency relationship?
There are undoubtedly countless commercial scenarios where the client pays and the supplier delivers, with little room or purpose for discussion or debate in the middle. In a restaurant, you expect the chef to cook the steak to your liking and don’t expect to skip off to the kitchen to ensure the French beans don’t get steamed to a pulp while he’s doing it.
But, in my humble opinion, the B2B PR and marketing agency/client relationship is a different recipe, with different ingredients altogether and which flourishes from regular, open and active engagement across the funder/provider divide.
Manchester PR luminary, Tony Ingham, was an advocate of the “partnering” approach – explained comprehensively here, but – in short – a “commitment to improve communications and avoid disputes by working together towards shared and common goals and objectives on a project specific basis” because “partnering builds goodwill and trust, encourages open communication, and helps the parties eliminate surprises and adversarial relationships.”
The enduring (and most controversial) concept about partnering is that in a project the “client” is actually the objective of the project, while the company who has embarked upon – and is funding – the project, is just another supplier to the objective, along with the firms it has to commissioned to provide services. For the business picking up the bill, this takes some leap of imagination; and yet it has been shown to work, even in the most complex commercial environments such as construction.
A B2B PR and Marketing relationship made in heaven (or, at least, not in hell)
Client-agency relationships can be fraught: misunderstanding, dissatisfaction, lack of mutual respect, substandard work…there is list of potential problems that can fracture a working partnership, causing lost time, missed opportunities and the ultimate expense of reviewing agency arrangements and starting again. Sometimes, this is unavoidable; however, adopting a partnering approach may make the difference and reverse a faltering friendship.
Yes, agencies need to perform to a high standard – that’s a given; but what can B2B businesses do to get the very best out of their agencies?
- Be clear about what you want to achieve from PR and marketing from the outset. If your goals are unrealistic but could be adapted, the agency should be honest with you about it and, between you, agree on a revised objective.
- Be upfront about how much budget you want to allocate – you will get appropriate ideas to fit that budget.
- Be prepared to give the agency access to and adequate time with your experts in order to help them reach the crest of the learning curve about your industry and your business as quickly as possible – the more they know, the better work they’ll do for you.
- Ensure the key people across your business are getting behind the chosen agency – if there is dissent due to favouring a previous agency provider or distrust of agencies altogether, these are obstacles getting in the way of the agency doing its job.
- Make the time to check in with the agency formally on a regular basis – it sounds obvious, but busy businesses can be prone to postponing agency status meetings and then wondering why the campaign and the relationship have gone astray.
- Be straight with your agency if you’re unhappy, but do it early and give them the chance to rectify the situation.
- Controversy warning! – Consider ways of selecting an agency other than using the pitch process. What you think you know about an agency after a couple of hours’ credentials and pitch might not be what you actually get for the next 12 months. Instead, you could take soundings about agencies from other, trusted business associates, meet the agency people informally, talk to their current clients, share your problems and challenges with them and give your preferred, potential partner the opportunity to provide a solution. You might be surprised at the commitment, energy and creativity you get. Equally, you can still walk away and avoid rueing a competitive pitch promise that doesn’t materialise.