The selection and retention of the right PR consultancy is critical for a client because of the key role that the agency is able to play in helping the organisation achieve its goals.
Ten key guidelines on agency search, selection and relationship management:
1. Prepare all the necessary background information
• Consider the assistance required in function of the goal to be achieved
• Consider the type of consultancy required
• Talk to colleagues in other companies about their agency experiences
• Seek credentials information from, and possibly talk with, selected consultancies that match the criteria in your outline brief
• Evaluate all the information against your checklist of criteria
• Invite maximum five agencies to present their credentials
2. Think of the results you expect and prepare a written brief accordingly.
• Prepare a concise but thorough written brief for the competing consultancies
• The brief should include the following points: general background information, specific background on the assignment, expected results, timeline and an indication of budget.
• It must be clear from the brief whether a strategic proposal alone is required, whether some creative ideas or a detailed action programme are expected.
• Make the budget explicit from the outset. This will safeguard against misunderstandings during negotiations.
• Identify and make clear all criteria on which the consultancies’ presentations will be judged and advise of the time allowed.
3. Invite up to three consultancies to pitch
• Decide positively on a pitch list of up to three consultancies only.
• Don’t invite the incumbent to pitch if you have no intention of re-appointing them. If you haven’t already done so, talk to the incumbent about why you are not including them in the shortlist.
• Make competing consultancies aware of the number and names of consultancies on the pitch list and whether the incumbent is included.
• If there is a requirement for participating consultancies to sign non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements, it should be done at this point
4. Consider the time necessary for response to the brief
• Prepare a firm timetable for the total pitching process and stick to it.
• Allow sufficient time for consultancies to have face-to-face meetings with you to discuss the brief, ask questions, and to establish a rapport with you.
• Time must be allowed for development of a proposal between brief and presentation, bearing in mind that full proposals can take weeks to develop.
5. Give background market data, interpretation and clarification
• You should be willing to share, on a confidential basis, market data and other relevant research and allow agency personnel access to people in the company with whom they would work if appointed.
• Ensure that there is always a specified senior member of your organisation to handle all enquiries and meet requests of the agency – to ensure consistency of response.
• Allow the same rules of access to information to all consultancies pitching
6. Help the process by demonstrating commitment with some financial contribution
• You should decide whether to make a contribution to the pitch
• Some financial contribution (announced upfront and the same offer to all consultancies on the shortlist) shows commitment and the seriousness of your intent. The objective is to motivate the consultancies and ensure a professional process: the contribution is not likely to cover all the third party, staff and associated costs
7. Understand the roles of all those involved on both sides and set up an objective evaluation system
• Ensure that all the decision makers have been fully briefed and that they are all present at each stage.
• Advise the consultancies of job titles and roles of those attending from your side
• Establish an objective evaluation system for assessing each pitch.
• Ensure that the agency presentation teams include people who will actually work on the business.
8. Insist on necessary commercial disciplines before an appointment is made.
• Ensure that the business side (contracts, remuneration and the management of the relationship) is discussed before an appointment is made.
9. Decide and inform quickly and fairly
• Decide on the selected agency as soon as possible, normally no more than two weeks after all the agency presentation
• Establish a firm procedure for notifying all consultancies of the decision
• Ensure that all pitching consultancies get feedback against your checklist of criteria on the same day
10. Key guidelines on implementation and relationship management
• Once an appointment is made, ensure that a contract between client and consultancy is negotiated, agreed and signed. Contracts must be adhered to throughout the relationship, up to and including termination.
• Arrange for mutual induction meetings to create familiarity between personnel and with your respective business processes
• Client/agency relationships are valuable and need active management: review and reinvest regularly in the relationship by the strategic use of brainstorms