The First Three Months with Your PR Agency: Stay The Course!
By HIGH10 MEDIA
Patience, it’s been said, is a virtue. And though it might be relatively easy to be virtuous while alone on a mountaintop, while you endeavor to grow your brand’s awareness and connect your message to relevant audiences, patience might seem like the least of your priorities.
Despite this, the ability to patiently stay the course with a reputable and skilled communications agency, especially in the first three months of the engagement, will go far in seeing you through to the results you need. The question is how to discern whether you’re being intelligently patient or foolishly naive as you wait for results to show—and what you can do to keep the process smoothly and effectively moving ahead.
To help understand this, let’s start with a breakdown of these three crucial initial three months.
Your first month will be all-important in establishing a solid foundation for the engagement. This is when you get to know the agency and, more importantly, when the agency gets to know you and your goals, your brand, company or organization.
By the end of your first month you should feel confident your agency understands your company and brand, knows your mission and vision, and has a precise understanding of the objectives and benchmarks for your work together.
On your side, you should be sure senior management understands and agrees to the strategy, objectives, and expectations of the engagement. And it is critical that your team share information that your agency needs to succeed. Keep them informed – not in the dark.
Month 1 Tip:
One way of making sure all of this happens is asking for a communications plan from your agency to outline the first three or six months of the engagement.
The second month of the engagement is where frustration can arise. The bloom is off the rose, results this early in the process might not be completely visible, and anxieties can sometimes spike.
But that doesn’t mean work isn’t being done or that progress isn’t being made. In fact, an experienced agency will by this point be deep in its process, making headway with pitches, further planning, outreach to journalists and fresh ideas for story angles.
What you should be looking for here is a coordinated and wide-ranging communications effort that’s pushing on all fronts. While landing a piece in a top-tier national outlet is always a challenge—albeit a challenge good agencies are remarkably skilled at overcoming—doing so after eight weeks of less of work makes that challenge even more pronounced. So agencies will often use this time to build a media foundation with items in more niche or specialized outlets. In addition to seeking out this “lower-hanging” fruit, these kind of efforts give your agency a chance to test, calibrate and improve the message.
In spite of such a good foundation, it is common for an organization to become restless and frustrated within the second month should media outlets not become evangelists for your message.
Month 2 Tip:
At this point the more you communicate about the engagement, the more you’ll learn about what’s going on. Ask to be part of the process to whatever extent possible; a good agency will eagerly welcome your input and feedback. Weekly calls, status reports, and in-person meetings are an excellent way to make sure this happens.
By month three you’ve ramped up, seen some first efforts in action, and (hopefully) kept lines of communications with your agency wide open. You’ve done everything right but still you might find yourself wondering if there’s any real chance the key objectives you laid out at the beginning of the engagement will be met.
In the meantime, you could be facing some internal pressure to get things moving. This is the moment where patience will play the greatest role. If you’ve gone through the steps outlined above, assuring yourself your agency is earnest, intelligent and working doggedly on your behalf, then it’s a matter of time before you see some serious results.
It’s important to bear in mind that, unlike with advertising, where billboards or air time can be bought at will, the news cycle is a wild and unpredictable beast. Editors, for example, might love items pitched about your company but their editorial calendars could call for that topic to appear only weeks or months down the line.
A major national scandal could knock a planned item about your company, and it might take weeks, or longer, to find another opportunity to place the story. This is the nature of the above-mentioned beast. We grapple with it because when things fall into place, as they always do, earned media offers advantages—like exposure, reach and credibility— that literally cannot be bought.
Month 3 Tip:
Rather than withdraw from the process, it’s time to double down on all the above: review your communications plan with your agency; speak openly about your concerns; ask questions and suggest ideas of your own. Even if you are seeing some great results, it’s still a good idea to lean into the process at this point so you can tee up the next quarter of collaboration with your agency.