back ’em or sack ’em: how to be the perfect PR client

A friend of mine asked me a while back what she should be doing as an in house PR to get the best out of her agency.  She constantly felt let down by the team and wanted to make sure she wasn’t making things worse….

Put this together but would love to hear others’ thoughts about their idea of the perfect client.

1.   Brief them – properly. If things change, brief them again

2.   Use your nous and bring them in at the appropriate time,  Too early and your entire budget will go on briefing them unnecessarily, too late and it’ll be hard to get to grips with the topic properly

3.   Invite them in. More than that actually, encourage it…Have them hot desk and meet the sales teams and execs.  the more they talk the more stories they’ll uncover and the better the results

4.   Define what you want – let them figure out how to get there

5.   Understand how the agency works, what do they bill for? Are there hidden costs (there shouldn’t be)? Who does invoicing? Can you talk direct to accounts to resolve any issues rather than eating into the account team’s time.

6.   Feel comfortable with your team.  Personality clashes happen – if you don’t get on with someone, ask for a team change/refresh

7.   Give regular feedback – if it works for you to have one on ones rather than all team meetings, ask for that. The best relationships will be built if you feel you can be honest and stop any issues before they appear

8.   Understand that things won’t always go to plan but demand the team compensates….so if journalists drop out of an event at the last minute, it doesn’t matter because the team set up more briefings than were required anyway

9.   Get senior time.  Your business deserves experienced people – make sure you get them

10.   Motivate the team.  They typically work for a few clients so make sure they enjoy the work you give them and pull together on the tough/less fun stuff. Partnerships can be put to the test in crisis times for example but a team that pulls together will usually get much better results

11.  Be fair and supportive

13.  Be an advocate for the agency.  If people within the company want the PR role explained – do it in a supportive way – in other words back them or sack them


  1. Vince Stevenson · May 13, 2009

    It’s a very useful post – Thank you. Having never had the pleasure of working with a PR company, I will add this to my ever growing file of communication advice and good practice. Rgds Vince

    • Rebecca McMichael · May 13, 2009

      Thanks Vince

  2. ourman · May 13, 2009

    #14 Take a step back and try and see your organisation in their eyes and in the eyes of media and the general public. You may be very excited about your new widget that you are trying to promote but try and get it in perspective and be realistic about what success might look like.

    #15 Don’t make them jump through hoops during the pitching process if either all you, or can afford, is the occasional press release.

    #16 Remember you are paying for their expertise – truly listen and evaluate all their ideas.

    #17 Get absolute assurances that the same people who are pitching are also the ones who will service the account. It’s okay for the office junior to be involved but don’t let them hide behind an account director – make sure the expertise and experience is being used where it is most needed.

    • Rebecca McMichael · May 13, 2009

      Nice additions ourman 🙂

  3. Eleanor · May 13, 2009

    Nice post, I also like Ourman’s first addition too!

  4. Kate Hartley · May 13, 2009

    I’d add: say thank you every now and then when one of the agency team has gone above and beyond, or when the results have been particularly good. It’s amazing how much extra effort a thank you can buy from an agency.

    • Rebecca McMichael · May 13, 2009

      Good point, my favourite ever client was such a pleasure to work with, she used to always make a point of thanking the team for exceptional work and even sent flowers when people got promoted. She would also always involve us as her peers and her extended team.

      (Yes you Sheila Parry, if you are reading 🙂 )

      • Sheila Parry · May 13, 2009

        Gosh! Don’t know what to say to that other than thank you! Although on a serious note, I would say that it is all about the relationship and inevitably the more you put in the more you get back. I’ve always been really fortunate to work with fantastic agency people, so it has always been easy.

        • Rebecca McMichael · May 13, 2009

          🙂 Ah you are there 🙂

  5. cherkoff · May 13, 2009

    When I worked at BM, the best client I had didn’t worry too much if something didn’t work, as long as he knew we’d tried. The team really appreciated that and he definitely got better overall results as a consequence.

  6. David Brain · May 13, 2009

    All excellent points. I would just add ‘be human’. Some clients think they have to have all the answers and put themselves under all sorts of pressure. I can’t tell you how refreshing, motivating and energising t is to have a client ocassionally say “I have no idea, what do you think we should do?”.

    V nice post. I hope it gets well read.

    • Rebecca McMichael · May 13, 2009

      Thanks David, I agree – being human is an often overlooked trait!
      Feel free to pimp it widely and ensure it gets read 😉

  7. David Brain · May 13, 2009

    already tweeted and out there . . .

    • Rebecca McMichael · May 13, 2009

      lol thanks David

  8. Ged Carroll · May 13, 2009

    Provide them with the research and insight that is available already within your organisation. If not commission it.

    Set SMART goals. Think beyond ROI to ROE.

    Be brave. Many of the people in your organisation may have misconceptions of what PR does and can achieve.

    Think like your customer – what is news to you may not be of interest to the world at large. Is it remarkable for useful?

    Embrace online!

    • Rebecca McMichael · May 13, 2009

      innit 😉

  9. Ben Evetts · May 13, 2009

    I totally agree with David’s point about being human and realising that you don’t have all the answers.

    The point about the wider team is crucial – my experience on both sides of the fence has always been that the best campaigns come out when a client will engage in the creative process rather than just expecting it to be delivered and commenting on the detail.

    There is another hand to this – i’ve seen a few agencies that pitch on their creative and then only deliver on the process while seeking continual campaign direction from the client.

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