Out with the old and in with the new!

Out with the old, in with the new! These types of thoughts come to all of us when we are starting the new year. For some it is about working off the Christmas turkey and multiple bottles of wine down the gym; for others it is about decluttering and spring cleaning your house; and for professionals it’s often about looking at working with new people or new partners.

Belt tightening and new business strategies are often the prompt for this kind of behaviour, but sometimes it’s just because companies fancy a change. From my side www.fiveinaboat.com will be looking to add exciting new clients to its roster, while continuing to build relationships with existing clients.

But for clients this time of year could mean they start to look for a new communications consultant or PR agency. There could be a host of reasons why this might be. While I hope this is not the case for clients of Five in a Boat, after having spent half my career on the client side of the fence, I understand the pressures at play and the temptation to look for change.

So here are my top tips on what to look for if you are considering changing your PR / communications agency this year: 

1.     Vibe – most importantly, when you meet a prospective agency / consultant, pay close attention to the vibe, and to the chemistry. It doesn’t matter how good an agency is, if the people in it make you feel like someone is scratching their nails across a blackboard, it isn’t going to work.

2.     Experience – this is key. Is your prospective agency capable of doing the work? Does it have the relevant experience? And if it doesn’t, is it willing to hire in people who do have the relevant experience?

3.     Brief – be clear about your brief when you are inviting agencies to pitch for your business. This will save huge amounts of time, money and frustration on both sides if you know what you want your agency to deliver. And if you don’t have a clear idea of those deliverables, maybe because you don’t have an internal comms headcount (which is very common, especially in smaller businesses), invest in a PR consultant who has the experience to help you craft the brief.

4.     Reputation – before approaching any agencies, do your homework. Look into the reputation of the business, check out testimonials, and ask around. You need to know that the company you choose comes well recommended, has a strong work ethic, and is trustworthy.

5.     Bullshit – avoid it! I have come across so many agencies that tell you what you want to hear, regardless of the consequences. This is a tough one to judge but try to work out which are the honest agencies. The ones which will be open about what is achievable, versus what isn’t. It will save a lot of time and effort in the long run if you are both on the same page from the outset and if you don’t allow yourself to fall for flattery.

6.     Cost – understand that the most expensive agencies are not always the best. And while you should be willing to invest in good results, it’s fundamental for an agency to demonstrate its value. Just because a company has a big name, it does not mean that it will do its best for you. Conversely, while smaller agencies may work harder as they have more to prove, they do not always have the best talent and won’t always be able to deliver the best results. Choose wisely!

7.     Time manage – while it’s vital that you do everything you can to hire the right agency, try not to let the pitch process drag on. I’ve been in situations where it’s taken up to six months to hire a new agency. In the meantime, your old agency has totally lost its motivation, your potential agencies think you are messing them around, and you as a client start to get very bored of the whole process. Given you want to start on a positive foot – one where both parties are super excited about cracking on with the job in hand – try to make this period as short as possible. Of course, sometimes there are issues such as company changes, budget restraints, due diligence or procurement processes etc which impact the timeline and which are unavoidable, but, in this instance, keep your agencies in the loop – radio silence is no one’s friend.

8.     Team – be very specific about what team you want and/or need to service your business. Also make sure that those who are put forward in the pitch are actually the people that will be working on your account. Finally, meet with the person who runs the company as he or she is responsible for instilling the right values and culture in that agency. If you get a bad feeling, the chances are that the agency is formed in their image and is probably not the one for you!


Julia Herd