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8 Rules for Being a Good Client
By Dan Chmielewski, PR Manager, Rainbow Technologies
 

An executive with a B2B organization recently attended a local PRSA gathering and made his way to each table. "I’m looking for a PR agency," he said. "I thought this would be a great place to find a good one." He surmised that if he didn’t find one here, he’d at least get a good referral.

Clients "looking for a good agency" use multiple criteria to evaluate an agency, whether they are doing an initial review or searching for a replacement. The question always boils down to, "Do you know any good agencies?" Once you find one and you begin working together, the next question should be, "Am I being a good client?"

Here are some suggestions:
Spell it out. As a client, be clear about what you want your agency to do. Are they your hands-on partner, driving your external communications strategy? Are they working on tactical implementation of your plan? Or, do you need them for project work, such as a product launch, trade show PR, or case study development? Frame the parameters of the work and clearly define the roles. Manage the relationship so the defined roles are followed.

Partner with your agency. Too often, the client-agency relationship can be strained and even adversarial. This happens regardless of the size of the agency or the size of the account. Your agency is not your enemy. Your competition is. Partnering with your agency is the best way to position your company against your competition while getting the best possible results from your PR program.

Share information. Your agency is an extension of your company. Unless Madam Cleo is on staff, don’t expect them to read your mind. Alert them to changes in plans, policies and market direction. Hold Q&A sessions with senior management to help your agency understand the reasoning behind corporate decisions. The more your agency knows about the "why," the better they can tell your company’s story to the press and analyst community.

Be patient. Instant gratification from your PR agency relationship should be against the law. Even experienced agencies need time to learn about your company, your products and your industry before they can be truly effective. Give your agency time to do its homework. Invest in the time it takes to help your agency understand your company and your business.

Have realistic expectations. Not every announcement warrants a full barrage of press calls. For every editor who hates getting the, "Did you get the release I sent you?" call, there is an agency person who hates making that call. Be realistic about your news and your expectations of coverage. If it’s an A-1 announcement, your agency will hit the phones for you. But if your news is about version 8.6 of a legacy product or a partnership announcement with a company that no one knows, don’t ask your agency to do a full court press. These releases are important for the sales team or the investment community, but recognize their true news value. PR people on both sides of the aisle carefully cultivate relationships with the press, and client-required press calls for every announcement do more harm than good. Set reasonable, achievable expectations for your agency. Don’t tell them they have to win five industry awards and win six comparative product reviews for you this year. The only answer you should get is, "We’ll do our best."

Pay your bills on time. When the bill comes in, pay it. If you ask your agency to do more than the retainer agreement calls for, expect to pay more at the end of the month. Remember, your agency is in business to make money just like you. Make your account one that’s profitable for them.

Manage expectations to senior management. Always merchandise successes achieved by your agency to senior management. Most senior management wants three basic things from their PR agency: good advice, great results and great value for what they pay for.

Listen. You can usually tell how smart someone is by the questions they ask. Your agency will likely have different ways of thinking about things than you do. Listen to what they have to say. You don't always have to agree, but consider what they say to you and think through the idea. Part of being a good communicator is being a good listener.

Lastly, say "Thank you" when a member of your agency’s team does some outstanding work. Don’t forget to drop an email to the agency principal to let them know about the great job that person did for you. It’s fine to be a demanding client, just make sure you are also an appreciative one too. It all goes back to being a good partner.

Dan Chmielewski is the public relations manager for Rainbow Technologies in Irvine, California. He has 19 years of high technology PR experience, client-side and agency-side, working for Fortune 500 companies to start-ups in New York State, Boston and Southern California. In addition, he has published more than 200 articles in daily newspapers, business publications and trade magazines. His agency will tell you that he practices the rules above. Dan Chmielewski can be reached by email at dchm@rainbow.com .


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