While we focus on getting our clients into the news when they have something valuable to share, we sometimes make the headlines as well.
The importance of having open, honest and trusting relationships between client and agency
For centuries, businesses had one thing in common: trust between the service or goods provider and the client. To place full confidence in a commercial establishment has driven the very nature of industry forward for a very long time.
While trust still plays a major role today, the inner workings between a public relations agency and a client can be very different, if not outright shocking.
A 2014 study between an agency and their client revealed that only 36% of agency partners believed their clients spoke freely and honestly, while 65% of clients felt the same about agencies. Yet, 98% of the respondents in the survey believed that trust leads to a better relationship.
Lizelle McDermott, Managing Director of public relations firm McD Squared, believes that openness is vital – but different ways exist in approaching it.
“We have always positioned ourselves as an extension of the client rather than an external agency. We spend a lot of time within the organisation to understand their solutions, strategy and how they operate. That allows us to communicate freely when we see the client veer off course,” she explains.
By building a reputation of open and honest communications over many years, McDermott has the confidence to advise her clients with their best interest at heart. “Our clients know that their brands are our biggest priority. I would not risk compromising trust, by not being truthful and calculated in my advice.”
With over 13 years of ICT marketing communications experience, for McDermott the single most important thing that clients should know about their relationship with an agency is commitment.
She explains that through a give-and-take structure, agencies can’t provide meaningful value if their line-of-sight of a client’s strategy, solutions, and people are obstructed.
“It is therefore very important that should a company decide to embark on public relations, they understand that there must be a commitment from their side in terms of time and resources as well.
Conversely, an agency should also invest an equal amount of resources – which in turn builds up trust.
“An agency cannot just sit back, accepting retainer payments and not try everything to ensure they deliver to their client. Sometimes all it takes is being creative in your approach to extract the information that enables you to deliver what the client needs,” she explains.
In the current uncertain economic times, retaining well-paying clients can be a big concern for an agency – but attracting new business can be even tougher. McDermott adds that experience or recommendations from trusted colleagues can open new doors, but the initial discussion is central to eliminating boundaries and building up trust.
“When I do meet a new client for the first time, I always have a very frank discussion with them to ensure they understand that there will be times we disagree on an approach, but that I always have their brand’s best interest at heart. While this does not always resonate with everyone, it has stood me in great stead in the past.”
Author Christopher Murphy once said that “rather than constantly focusing on finding new clients, focus on looking after the clients you have” - a belief that resonates with McD Squared.
McDermott explains that “Trying to find new business is a time consuming and costly affair for any agency. This again comes back to becoming an extension of your client rather than being an external agency. I also believe that one of our key strengths is that we continuously look for new ideas for existing clients, keeping the relationship fresh and proactively moving the brand forward as it evolves.”
It is tough to think about but when a breach of trust eventually occurs, McDermott tackles it head-on as quickly as possible. If there is a genuine breach, McDermott says, it is best to immediately identify the root cause and solve the problem from there.
A perceived breach is thankfully often a simple misunderstanding, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be addressed. Any potential fractures in the agency-client relationship need to be consulted on, or “you run the risk of emotions festering and the whole situation being blown out of proportion.”
Even with trust as a foundation between agency and client, things don’t always go according to plan.
McDermott has in the past resorted to severing ties with clients due to conflicting business approaches, clients not being ready to implement a public relations strategy or feeling that McD Squared wasn’t the right fit.
She explains: “This is where it is crucial, to be honest in your communications with clients. It doesn’t necessarily mean burning bridges, but rather establishing whether you can overcome the differences to move forward with the relationship.”
But how important is it for both sides of the relationship to understand the wants and needs of each other? While decisive, for McDermott it is somewhat of a delicate balancing act.
McD Squared has in the past disagreed on a course of action with a client, which evolves the relationship beyond trust and into compromise.
“The only way in which you would be able to reach a compromise is if you understand each other well enough, trust each other to deliver on your core competencies and know that both parties have the brand’s best interest at heart.”
McDermott concludes by acknowledging that businesses are made up of humans, which means there is always the possibility of misunderstanding. “Having clear, open and honest channels of communications are a great way of mitigating or even eliminating the risk of these types of misunderstandings.”
Female Entrepreneur SA
8 boxes to tick for the perfect brand communications partner
The modern business understands the benefits that come hand in hand with public relations and brand communications. Brand development, media engagement, client awareness and business growth are just some of the advantages of a well-planned, strategic and sustainable campaign. So says Lizelle McDermott, MD at McD Squared.
However, finding the right partner to create this campaign and work with your business can be complex and overwhelming. Is it the agency with all the stars and lights? Or is it the one with all the awards? These eight points help whittle the wheat from the chaff.
1. Industry understanding
Does the agency have specific industry knowledge and a rich insight into the challenges and pain points which impact on it? Do they know where it started, where it is going and what may very well happen tomorrow?
It is essential that any partner has a deep understanding of your industry so they can translate this into an understanding of where the business is going and ensure your brand remains relevant to the target audience. Without knowing how the industry ticks and its specific quirks, an agency can’t tailor a strategic plan that recognises these issues and manages them effectively.
2. Client testimonials
It is very easy for an agency to promise the world and assure your business of its future in lights and fame and glory if you just simply sign on the dotted line. However, if the company doesn’t have proven capability, it isn’t going to deliver.
One of the best ways to verify whether an agency or communications partner has the right qualifications is to read through their client testimonials. If they don’t have any on their website or promotional materials, ask them for contact information. A great agency will be willing to let you investigate their capabilities as it knows it will get great reviews.
3. Previous work
Ask the agency for samples of their previous work, and ensure that it is with similar brands and in a similar space. The company may be fantastic in its delivery of consumer campaigns, packed with all the right skills for customers in that space, but if your business is communicating to the technology, B2B and enterprise segments, the agency won’t understand the nuances of those markets.
Ensure any agency has knowledge of your industry sector to ensure they don’t struggle to deliver the results.
4. A willingness to invest
A truly spectacular mark of a worthy agency is its willingness to engage in your business from the start. If they take the time to get to know your brand, understand its needs, recognise its weak points and really dig down into its culture, then they will be willing to walk your brand’s path alongside you.
entrenched in the client’s business, often You can pick up if an agency has done its homework and researched a company right at the start. If they haven’t done this at the pitch phase, then when will they think your business is worth knowing? It is essential that an agency understanding it better than they do. That way they can consult effectively.
5. Long-term relationships
Does the agency have strong relationships with partners, clients and, most importantly, the media? A strong communications agency will be determined to invest in building relationships for your business, and have plenty of their own stuffed into their little black books.
6. Business results come first
Often we find that people will develop content for content’s sake, with little to no awareness of to pitch it to, or what its value is for the market and media. This just wastes everyone’s time and energy. Just make sure they have the relationships so they can get your brand message out to the right media.purely to count coverage, that’s fine. Hire an agency that just wants to provide your brand with coverage. However, if you want to build the business, its footprint and its bottom line, then you need an agency which is committed to a clearly defined strategy.
7. Creative flair
Want to make an impact? Be bold enough to allow the agency to explore creative options that make their own noise in an already addled market. who
Your agency must be able to develop creative solutions, content and concepts that resonate with your brand identity, and with the target market. The market is bombarded with noise and ideas and brands. You need an agency which has the flair needed to come up with different ways of doing things.
8. Your brand is their brand
Your communications agency must be a strategic partner who treats your brand as if it were their own. Every concept, every release and every touchpoint must be crafted with your company and its strategy in mind. This is vital for a successful, long-term relationship.
Your agency must be willing to make a commitment to drive your brand to the next level, consulting with you and giving you advice that yields results and maps back to your strategic goals. This partnership can potentially be incredibly profitable and powerful, so choose an agency that will walk with you and get your brand out there – to the right media, at the right time and with the right attitude.
McD Squared in the news!
The definition does not include a description of IP as something that is only respected if the owner is a large agency or business behemoth
Channel-wise Awards - March 2017
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