Onboarding a new client? This is one of the most nerve-wracking processes for any PR agency. In fact, dissatisfaction and later issues can stem from this process if it’s not done correctly. Yet, many agencies rush through onboarding and end up with missed targets and disappointing results.
Let’s look at five essential steps when onboarding a client that are frequently missed, but can ensure a solid agency-client relationship. They are not exhaustive, and like anything PR, they are open to interpretation. If the homework is done however, it can help you build a more trusted relationship, which greatly matters as circumstances go right or awry.
Step 1: Look for the hidden influencers
You have signed a new PR contract. Congratulations! Now the work begins.
First, you need to understand your client’s business, and not just what they want from you as a PR agency. Instead of simply introducing the team to the team who hired you, why not first learn about your client. The client business is continually changing, and articulating this change can be difficult. Do the research. You also need to know who are the key influencers and their expectations.
Try scheduling a half-day meeting with the different department heads you’ll be working with. This familiarizes you with how the client company operates and helps key influencers at the client end know your team in person.
For PR agencies, you also can share the lessons with the rest of the accounts servicing team. This shared knowledge offers a roadmap on engaging clients in daily activities and futureproofs your engagement if your lead account person leaves.
Step 2: Get the measurements right
It is easy to get measurements wrong, and it can plague your relationship. Instead, insist on getting the measurements right. How we measure PR outcomes is evolving. It is still less science and more art. Yet, it does not give you an excuse to suggest better metrics or take a practical approach to measure. A data-centric approach to PR can help show your worth. It matters when you enter a busy period. You can then focus on what really matters for your client.
It also allows your activities to be translated into KPIs by senior management or business leaders. Data offers a platform to engage, so find new ways to create data and measure it.
Step 3: PR audit
This is another area that many PR companies skim over.
Advertising agencies always start with a brand audit. In fact, in these lean times, many use it as a point of engagement. PR agencies need to do the same. You cannot create a PR program without knowing where your client stands in terms of media visibility, such as brand equity, end customer feedback, and earned media coverage.
An audit offers a baseline. You can then create a strategy and tactics to improve on this. It tells you the direction to move forward and the steps to take.
The audit should also include competitors from both the PR agency perspective and the client. Why? Most clients may not see adjacent competitors who may not be in the space but may gain publicity.
It pays to prepare in advance
Step 4: Create an asset repository
Do you have the latest logos and pictures? It is a common question from media, yet they wonder why it takes so long for PR agencies and companies to respond.
So, it pays to prepare in advance. Create a single repository for your team and the client to access. This allows you to track users and quickly update a new version of the logo or add new photos.
Don’t limit the repository to files and messages. Friendly media contacts, key opinion leaders (KOLs), analysts they work closely with, and media that are unfriendly to the client should also be shared here. This allows PR agencies and clients to create a common communication strategy when engaging these people.
Step 5: Integrate with marketing
I can never emphasize enough how important this is. Yet, many PR agencies and clients never align on this aspect.
Sometimes, internal marketing sees PR as a peripheral activity. Marketing/brand agencies see PR agencies as taking away some of their influence (or budget). Some PR agencies do not want to get too involved with marketing strategies as they do not see brand equity as a remit.
PR and marketing depend on each other for the right outcomes. In an increasingly digital world where digital advertisements are struggling with conversions, PR and marketing have an equal say in brand awareness.
So, find ways to integrate with marketing. The best way is to get along and communicate regularly with the internal marketing team or person. Insist on having a meeting and ensure your metrics and outcomes are aligned. Learn about their current marketing strategy and tactics, and find new ways to support their goals.
Even if the PR and marketing strategies are distinct (they seldom are!), the strength of your working relationship will matter when your client pivots, rebrands, or deals with a crisis.
Don’t Rush Agency-Client Onboarding
The above is not an exhaustive list. There are other aspects such as communications platforms and regular reports and meetings which should be considered.
Most importantly, onboarding should be done thoughtfully and methodically. A typical onboarding should last around four weeks. You can shorten aspects of the process if you have an exact blueprint.
As you onboard a client, keep in mind that you are building a long-term agency-client relationship. It takes time to get everything squared. Don’t rush it! The relationship, and both agency and client company, will be better off for it.