If you were to handle a lawsuit without the necessary legal advice and council, or audit your own books without the needed skills of a professional, you know that you are setting yourself up for failure.
Not investing in professional help in either of these could have a dire impact on your business on so many levels. Communication, if not managed professionally, will also negatively impact your business and you could run the risk of ruining your reputation.
Fortunately, more companies are seeing the benefit of investing in their reputations compared to 10 years ago. Unfortunately, there are many charlatans out there that have jumped on the ‘reputation’ band wagon and have taken many organisations for a public relations (PR) ride.
I honestly can’t blame some companies for being wary about investing in communication/PR agencies; I’ve heard some shocking revelations of what some agencies get away with, with high retainer fees to boot!
Whether or not you are sceptical about engaging in the services of a communication manager, have been dabbling with the thought of getting someone on board, or just wondering whether you are getting the most out of your current service provider, use the pointers below to help find or confirm that you have the right communication fit in your organisation. This will essentially help you to manage and maximise your communication initiatives to ultimately take your reputation to the next level.
What should you look for when selecting a communication consultancy?
Firstly, have an agreed road map
Does the agency make an effort to understand your organisation? They need to live the brand to effectively communicate about the organisation. If they are not integrally involved in what you do, how can they successfully communicate to others what you do?
Do they ask about the business’ goals and is this incorporated into the overall communication goals?
Is there a clear agreed upon communication vision? Does this feed into the overall business vision?
How do they bill? This is quite a grey area, especially as there are no set industry fees and rates. Some agencies bill per hour and allocate a set number of hours to each client. Other prefer to bill per project, while others opt for a retainer fee. Personally, I recommend a monthly retainer fee with very clear deliverables that need to be reported on. Building a reputation takes time, and it is quite tricky to do this if the focus is only on an ad hoc project basis.
With a retainer you can have a much longer term view and build a stronger relationship if both parties know where you are heading to and what it is going to take to get there. I do understand that investing in a retainer could be quite daunting especially if you have not had a good experience in the past. Consider negotiating a shorter term engagement and take stock after a couple of months to see what is working, what is not working and readjust where necessary.
Secondly, find out about range of expertise of the agency
- Are they able to cater for your specific needs? What is tremendously helpful is to give a comprehensive brief of what you require. This will make your life considerably easier when it comes to evaluating the proposals received.
- Find out what their area of expertise is. Many agencies offer a full integrated communication service – be wary of this. Ultimately there will be one area that they are far better at and that they will focus on more. You want a specialist to help you, not a jack of all trades. Collaboration is the name of game; consider a couple of experts in different areas.
- It’s good to find out what experience they have in your particular market and particular disciplines. With that said, if an agency has not worked in a specific industry, don’t let that put you off. A fresh pair of eyes could just be what is needed on a new approach to get your message out there.
Thirdly, who will be working on the account: resourcing?
There are pros and cons when it comes to investing in a ‘one-man-show’ versus a dedicated team (agency).
When you invest in a consultant, you are investing in receiving their personalised service, unfortunately when they are ill or go on holiday there isn’t a backup team that can help out.
Investing in an agency gives you team support, and you have a group of experts to tap into as opposed to just one person. The snag is that when the proposal gets sent to you, you are promised the highest calibre resources and then once the contract is signed, you are assigned the newest intern to manage your account. You can and need to be quite clear who you would like to work on your account from the beginning.
Regardless of who you select to work with, the most important thing is that there is a good rapport between you and them.
The fourth area to look at is measuring the results
Find out what the measurement / return on investment of the service will be. Having clearly defined goals in place helps immensely to make sure that all parties are on the same page and knows what need to be done. You could consider linking a deliverable to a business goal.
How and when will progress be discussed; a monthly report is highly recommended to keep track of progress, as well as quarterly or annual review.
Finally, the agency’s reputation matters. Make sure that their values resonate with those of your company. Ask for references, and speak to their current and previous clients. Find out whether they belong to the industry body, as there would be a code of ethics that members would agree to. How do well-informed people judge the consultancy? Lastly, do they practice what they preach? Read their work, and also see how they represent themselves in the media.
To recap when it comes to investing in a communication agency:
- Have an agreed road map; align the communication strategy to the business;
- Confirm the range of expertise that the agency has to offer. Would a specialist or jack of all trades work best for you?
- Find out who you will be working with. Make sure that you resonate with the person or team that you end up working with;
- Have clear measurable goals in place to track progress and to measure your return on investment and finally;
- Reputationsmatter, investigate the agency thoroughly and get feedback from current and previous clients before investing in a long term engagement.
To continue the reputation management conversation, join Regine on Twitter @ReputationIsKey or Facebook.
Regine le Roux is the founder and managing director of Reputation Matters. She is a corporate reputation specialist who completed her Communication Management Honours degree Cum Laude at the University of Pretoria in 2001. She completed her MCom within a year. Le Roux founded Reputation Matters in 2005 and is particularly proud of the work that they do in the reputation measurement space with their reputation measurement tool, the Repudometer.
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