I’ve worked with all types of companies in all types of industries, but I have a secret… I’m partial to the B2B world. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I must note that B2B companies represent easily 80 percent of the clients I’ve worked with, so maybe I like them best because I know them best! But whatever the reason, I think B2B is the bee’s knees.
Some of the smartest people I’ve met run B2B businesses, and it’s mindblowing what I’ve been able to learn just by sitting by them (okay, and talking with them, writing for them and strategizing with them). But – the vast majority of these folks aren’t PR pros. That might be obvious, since they’ve hired the PR pros/us, but it’s something that agency folk can tend to forget.
Just as many of you in the B2B world must educate your customers about how – and why – to use your products or services, we PR people must also educate our customers. We can’t assume you know PR, and it’s our job to clearly delineate what our role is and what yours is. This helps decrease confusion, and increase productivity and success throughout our relationship.
To this end, here are four guidelines that will help you thrive as you engage with an agency.
1. If you disagree with, or don’t understand, something your agency recommends, ask for further information.
I was once working on a press release for a client. I sent over the draft, and they sent it back with minimal changes. Score! Except, I quickly realized they had changed almost all of my AP style formatting. Uh-oh. I made a few of their other requested edits, switched the entire press release back to AP style and sent it back to them. It came back to me – again – with everything AP style changed back to an inconsistent style I didn’t recognize.
This scenario would have been amusing, had it not wasted time on both sides. The problem wasn’t that my clients were trying to be difficult; they just didn’t understand AP style. In particular, they had a major problem with the fact that job titles (e.g. “vice president, marketing”) aren’t supposed to be capitalized in AP style (unless they’re acronyms, like CEO). They felt that their clients who were being quoted would see that their job titles weren’t capitalized, and would feel like we had messed up or weren’t giving due credit to their role in the company.
Once I was able to explain to them why AP style is important in something like a press release (because journalists expect it and won’t take you seriously if you don’t adhere to it), they were able to stop changing my edits and trust me.
The point here is: Always ask if you’re unsure about something. If you have suggestions for a piece of writing, but aren’t sure if there’s a grander purpose behind how your PR people wrote it in the first place, just ask. Aim to learn from your agency, rather than assume your way of writing is correct (even if it would be in your industry). This will save everyone a lot of time, and help you gain a deeper understanding into why things are done a certain way in PR.
2. We need your industry knowledge and expertise.
Let’s recap rule number one to be about trusting us to do the job you’ve hired us to do, and making sure to ask if something we’re doing doesn’t make sense to you. Then, rule number two is to make sure we’re leaning on you for the precise knowledge you have about your industry, products and services.
If your PR team has given you a messaging document that you’re not thrilled with, say so. Explain why they can’t substitute “channel” for “platform,” or whatever other word carries very specific meaning in your world. We know PR, but we need your guidance on all things related to your business and are eager to learn from you.
3. Understand the timing elements of PR, including deliverables, working with journalists and “rush jobs.”
PR can be tricky because there are often a lot of moving parts, and a lot of deadlines. As much as possible, your agency should plan to work on items as far ahead as they can so you’re not rushing around to finalize something unnecessarily. And this usually works well for contributed articles, awards, and speaking submissions.
But, if you’re working on a news announcement and trying to get the ear of a journalist, things will be moving at the speed of the light (ish). This can cause some harried excitement (okay, chaos) and the necessity for quick and/or after-hours responses, but it’s the nature of the beast due to publications’ deadlines and news cycles. Be ready to answer your PR team’s questions quickly (instantly isn’t too fast!), so they can relay your answers back to journalists. Being slow to respond to your PR people during a time that you’re trying to get coverage could mean the death of your coverage.
But, while on the subject, try to avoid too many rush jobs on your end. If you can at all avoid, or at least limit, the times you ask your agency to churn out a press release or article “ASAP,” please do. No one liked fire drills in school; they were unexpected and gave you a pit in your stomach. Fire drills from clients feel the same way, and worst of all, they also don’t give us ample time to do our best work, which really bums us out.
4. We want to support – and help you achieve – your goals.
Have you shared your organization’s overarching goals with your PR team? If not, there’s no time like the present! Every strategy – and then tactic – that we initiate should be directly connected to supporting your company’s business goals. For example, a client might say they want to apply for “Best Places to Work” awards… but then we find out they’re not hiring, nor do they plan to be hiring in the near future. In this case, spending time on awards that really help shine a light on your business for recruitment purposes is probably not the best use of our time.
On the flip side, let’s say you tell us you’re aiming to gain credibility in the market so you can ultimately get acquired. In this case, we’ll want to make sure every public-facing communication we launch is centered on demonstrating your growth, your potential and how viable your business is. The best way for us to support you is to know your goals, so please share them with us.
I hope this helps make your client/agency relationship a little more clear-cut and prepared to flourish. So now, it’s your turn! Do you have any tips for agencies? What do you love, and what do you wish PR teams would know or do differently? We’re all ears!