Challenge: Setting and managing expectations for coverage from your PR agency.
Many companies find that when they first hire a new agency, the performance is great. Most executives slap themselves on the back acknowledging their smart agency choice. However after one or two years, the agency’s performance seemingly drops, dissatisfaction increases and there is the call to replace the agency. How many times have you heard this story?
The underlying challenge is setting realistic coverage expectations in the form of specific metrics, to which all parties agree, on a quarterly basis. The agency should inform you what to expect given your budget, industry, level of news items, etc. Working with your agency, you should set targets for the type of coverage in specific publications, relative tone and depth of coverage. I prefer to set groups of publications or media outlets (e.g., top trade publications, secondary trade publications and business media). Then I like to assign point values for various types of coverage. The result of the conversation with the PR agency is a target quota for coverage – measured in points.
Since most agencies work on a retainer basis, you know exactly what you will be paying them every quarter. What is uncertain is the actual coverage. My preference is to treat the PR agency much more like a sales team – with a target quota. This enforces a discipline where the agency needs to press the company for news worthy items, access to executives for profiles, brainstorming sessions on new approaches, access to customer stories, etc. The agency should have a plan before the start of each quarter as to how they will achieve their target coverage quota. This will likely involve many activities that will include press releases, pitching exclusive stories, leadership lunches/dinners mixing executives, press and analysts, product releases, contributed articles, and others ideas they bring to the table.
At the end of each quarter, the agency should report on their achievements and set out the plan for the next quarter. This requires a set of metrics to be tracked and presented – along with commentary on why these results occurred and the plan going forward. Sharing a summary of this reporting to the rest of the executive staff can also help them understand the results achieved and the resources required in the coming quarter from their organizations. There should be no surprises when resources are called in for a product review or an executive needs to schedule a series of briefings. This tight planning process also gives the agency a chance to set realistic expectations from the marketing team and executive staff. All too frequently expectations are not realistic and this sows the seeds for a parting of the ways.
Lesson: Without a detailed PR objectives and metrics, the road will inevitably lead to dissatisfactions.