Chapter Event Recap: Agency Relationships from The Client Perspective

Chapter Event Recap: Agency Relationships from The Client Perspective
January 30, 2014 PRSADesigner

On January 27, the PRSA Boston Chapter gathered for our Client Perspective Roundtable discussion. Held at the offices of Communispace (with its replica Fenway Green Monster, pictured below), the panel was moderated by Mike Sacks of Emanate PR and included Jackie Lustig, APR, director of communications, Alere, Inc. andJake Messier, director of marketing & communications, The Boston Conservatory.  Lustig and Messier both brought agency experience to their current roles on the client side, experience that greatly informs their agency choices and ongoing relationships and fueled a wonderful and illuminating evening.

Here is a sampling of the discussion:

Trust and Chemistry Top the List

When working with an agency, Messier said that the number one issue is trust: he needs to have trust between himself and the agency partner for a relationship to yield results. Lustig referred to the selection process for a similar thought: the deciding differentiator among the agencies pitching her business was chemistry. In the end, the relationship between the agency and client teams have the greatest impact on the client/agency’s relationship, and the PR campaign’s success.

Part of that trust also extends to time and task management. Messier prefers not to spend a lot of time on reporting, going so far as to requiring only a single page document each month with a “logo farm” representing each placement. At Alere, Lustig doesn’t expect her agency to have to navigate the more than 80 acquisitions that comprise the company; she connects them to company resources most relevant to program priorities. Similarly, Messier acts as liaison for the many experts within The Boston Conservatory’s talented faculty, staff and students.

Different Needs for Different Companies

While Lustig and Messier agreed on a lot of issues, they also took the time to explain what was different about their communications programs and PR needs. At The Boston Conservatory, Messier stressed that he needed an agency adept at increasing local media visibility and “getting them into the conversation” between their competitors, while at Alere, Lustig is overseeing a complex marketing program both national and global in nature.

In addition, messaging needs can differ. The Boston Conservatory is a well-established institution who didn’t need to be told how to define itself. For Alere, however, the public relations program is new and Lustig relies on their agency partner to be an outside perspective and  “thought partner” to help construct concise and effective messaging.

Measurement? Important But Still a Struggle

PR measurement has advanced and received more attention in recent years, but it is still unique to each company. For Alere, the immediate need was to set baseline metrics for a nascent program – numbers that the executives can be aware of, and that the agency can set out improving on. At The Boston Conservatory, the campaign’s success was expressed concisely each month as a simple expression of what the President and Board needed to know: what are the last two placements, and what are you are working on now?

What Does PR Need to Learn?

At the end of the evening, Lustig and Messier talked about their roles working with multiple PR, marketing, advertising, media buying agencies, and were asked what PR can learn from other disciplines. Messier answered that PR agencies tend to be more responsive than others, while Lustig agreed they are better at deadlines. Adding to that, Lustig said that PR agencies could learn from ad agencies’ creativity, and other firms could learn more from PR firms about planning and meeting deadlines.

Please be sure to join us for the next PRSA Boston Chapter event, February 24, on the Boston Marathon and Crisis Communications at the Old State House. Please see our website for details and registration information.


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