Seeing The Wood From The Trees: How To Make Your PR Agency Accountable

Seeing The Wood From The Trees: How To Make Your PR Agency Accountable
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In this guest post, James Rose, head of content strategy at IBA International, details the three reporting basics marketing managers should expect from any PR agency.

At IBA, I have been on my fair share of PR update meetings – one-to-one calls between PR agency and marketing manager, regional level calls between the agency and marketing executives from multiple countries, multiple agencies reporting to regional marketing teams.

As a marketing manager, this following scenario may seem all too familiar:

Marketing manager: Where are we on pitching X and Y to the media?

Agency account executive: We’re talking to this magazine around an upcoming feature in six months’ time… this journalist has been on holiday, so we’ll follow up again next week… we had a conversation with another journalist who’s definitely interested in talking to you, but they’re a bit busy right now… this magazine wants to use this article, but can you go back to the author and get him to re-write it? We have a really good paid for opportunity in this publication – it’s definitely on our pending placements for next month…

Essentially, it’s you chasing the agency for an update when it should be the other way around. Wouldn’t it be so much better if they were chasing you for an image, checking they had an author bio, or looking for final approval of the copy they themselves had revised for placement?

The client has the right to know exactly what’s going on, when, where and why.

Here are three reporting basics marketing managers should expect from any PR agency:

  1. Set the agenda – regular review calls, regular reporting schedules

Any agency worth its salt will proactively ask to set up a regular update call with marketing execs directly responsible for managing PR. This presents an opportunity for marketing managers to cover off ongoing and upcoming PR activities and for the agency to provide feedback on marketing strategies.

But none of this can work if there is no clear representation of what those activities are. A simple tracking document can work wonders for both agency and client and should form the basis of every discussion so progress can be tracked meeting to meeting.

On the tab should be past actions with resulting achievements, current activities with actions so far, and planned activities. There should be a coverage tab tracking all press coverage, a pending coverage tab to show when coverage is coming and where, a translation tracker if necessary and an activity tracker to chart exactly how much budget you have left.

If an agency can’t clearly demonstrate what has happened between updates, you have a discussion document right in front of you.

  1. Where’s the coverage? The clippings tab is key.

No update usually means no coverage. Most experienced marketers understand PR coverage depends on three Ps:

  • Pipeline – a healthy pipeline of content which blends client marketing messages with media-hot topics.
  • Proactivity – a proactive and robust PR pitching process on the agency side based on building journalist relationships.
  • Perseverance – particularly as bylined thought leadership and case study placements can take time to secure.

But if you’re seeing no movement from week to week on PR activity and constantly hearing “We’re pitching for a feature opportunity in XXX” and then never hear any mention of publication XXX ever again, then it’s time to ask questions.

And when there really is no movement, it’s important that the agency is as honest as possible with what’s going down well in the press and what isn’t, as there are lessons to be learned with every piece of copy, or maybe a different story to be drafted.

  1. Don’t be afraid of setting PR metrics

PR reporting doesn’t simply end when a PR strategy has been agreed or when a piece is drafted, pitched and placed. Building up an overall picture of PR performance starts by looking at all coverage with a critical eye.

Total coverage is a good starting point, but how do you know if the majority of clippings are one-line mentions of your company in irrelevant publications? A good PR agency will agree a ‘tier one’ publication list with you at the start of any campaign to ensure your messaging is targeted to the publications with an audience you want to reach.

Then you need a deeper dive. How much of that tier one coverage is news item pieces from press release distributions? How many are journalist written features? Have our executives been quoted from interviews? Are we securing enough bylined article coverage?

Tier one coverage then needs to be measured in clear categories to allow all stakeholders to understand the split of PR coverage. This could be by market and/or geographically – particularly important if a campaign is looking to drive traction into a market or new geography.

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Marketing managers must be able to keep track of the PR campaigns they are ultimately responsible for. At IBA, our account teams are considered an extension of a client’s marketing team, and therefore must demonstrate their value. This can’t happen if the marketing manager can’t see an overall picture on what’s happening, let alone get a handle on how a campaign is playing out in the press.

 

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