How to Hire Your Next Communications Agency

Today’s guest post is by WALEKPeppercommer Brian Hickey.

keep-calm-and-make-the-right-choice-3If you’re a professional services firm and shopping for a communications firm, you’ve confronted the pros and cons of an in-house approach to communications, which affords its own advantages and disadvantages.

The code for successfully outsourcing communications isn’t a secret.  But it does require some key ingredients requiring specific input from both the client and the communications agency:

1.  Begin at the end.  A grasp of agency economics is critical tool to assess compatibility and prospects for long-term success.  Understanding the economics of the agency you’re contemplating hiring is crucial.  What kind of business does this communications agency wish to build?  What are they trying to accomplish, and how will you factor into their pursuit of profitability and growth?  Will your business be firmly seated among the top third of the agency’s clientele, or will you be somewhere in the middle of a long list?

2.  Let your communications agency succeed.  You can’t just hand the reins to your new agency… you need to provide the horse, too.  A successful firm/agency partnership will hinge on the client having the right people and processes in place to permit the agency to succeed at what it’s been hired to do.  At the least, this means clear communication channels between the agency and key marketing people.  Also critical is providing access to someone in the firm with broad institutional knowledge.

3.  Be clear; be strategic.  Professional services firms and their agencies can do themselves a big favor by establishing clear expectations from the outset.  What do we want to accomplish by working together?  What’s included in the fee, what’s not?  The best outcomes for outsourced communications efforts will be found in firms that have linked their underlying business strategy to a clearly defined communications strategy that links up to the practice-group level.

4.  Prune where you must.  A communications agency taking on a new professional services client is often surprised to find themselves inheriting a clandestine relationship between an individual partner deep in the firm’s galaxy of professionals and a second, competing communications firm.  Often the partner is happy, the communications interloper is happy, and you, the in-house marketer, have one less headache.  You’ll need to deal with that at some point if you bring a new agency on.

5.  Stay in your lane.  Given the day-to-day hurly-burly of professional services marketing life, it’s not surprising to find “drift” occurring in a firm/communications agency relationship.  It happens just as often among in-house teams.  Keeping tabs on how the external communications team is doing relative to the targeted practice groups and desired objectives will help you avoid that.

6.  Think small.  The best results start with small steps.  Agree with your new agency from the outset that you will focus on a finite number of partners in a clearly defined space.  This is your “beta” group.  Success begets success.  Don’t underestimate the ricochet effect a few high-quality placements for one practice can have in creating buy-in from recalcitrant partners.

7.  Expect knowledge.  At the risk of stating the obvious, a communications agency professional should understand precisely not only how your partners work, but how your firm and your clients’ businesses work.  There are no shortcuts – i.e. they either understand the difference between an underwriter and an issuer or they don’t.  If they don’t, they have no business sitting down with the head of your securitization practice.

8.  A fast start.  You want a firm that hits the ground running from day one.  While planning is absolutely necessary, it should represent a straight line to results, not a detour.  An agency’s job is to help you become a star within your firm.  Fast results are a great first step toward that objective.  Trust your gut.

9.  Consistent results.  At the end of the day, communications is about brand support, which means saying the right things, in the right places to the right audiences on an ongoing, consistent basis.

The secret to hiring the right communications firm is no secret: Measure twice, cut once.

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