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The First 100 Days: What PR Pros Have in Common With the President

Dave Parro

While public relations might be one of the most stressful jobs in America, the pressure can’t compare to being leader of the free world. But being a PR professional at an agency does have at least one thing in common with being president of the United States: Clients will make a judgment about a firm’s effectiveness and long-term potential during the first 100 days “in office.”

In presidential politics, the 100-day concept was pioneered by Franklin D. Roosevelt when he took office during the Great Depression. While some historians question whether it’s a valid yardstick, the effectiveness of presidents today is still measured by what they accomplish in their first 100 days, when their power and influence is the greatest.

The same benchmark applies in PR. Sometime around the 100-day mark, clients inevitably start gauging the effectiveness of their agency. That means the PR team must be ready and willing to demonstrate the value of its services within the first few months.

But just like the president needs congressional cooperation to get anything done in his first 100 days, a good PR team needs help from clients to get off to a solid start. Here are four things clients should expect from their new PR firm during the honeymoon phase of the relationship, followed by four things clients should provide to ensure early and sustained success.

The agency’s first 100 days

  1. Meaningful goals and measurable progress: During the planning phase, your PR firm should set quantifiable goals that align directly with your business objectives. They should go beyond output-based (vanity) metrics like number of deliverables and placements to include outcomes-based measurements like brand awareness, lead generation, website traffic and social engagement. These are much more effective barometers.
  2. Increasing understanding of your business: While there will inevitably be a learning curve for any PR firm, your account team should demonstrate a deeper understanding of your company, products and industry with each passing day. Ask your PR team difficult questions to keep them on their toes and test whether they truly “get” you. This becomes even more important if your work is technical in nature.
  3. Challenging (but respectful) discussion: The best agency-client relationships thrive on mutually enriching conversations that make each side smarter and better at their jobs. Rather than agreeing to whatever you want, your PR firm should be willing to stand up to you and explain why something is or isn’t in your best interests. Likewise, your account team should be open to you pushing them to come up with more creative solutions.
  4. Ability to switch gears quickly: Sometimes the initial PR strategy misses the mark, but that doesn’t mean your PR team has failed. Sometimes it takes time to figure out what best resonates with your target audience and the media. But a good PR firm won’t wait to be evaluated to switch gears and proactively offer new ideas; the strategy should evolve with early wins and failures.

The client’s first 100 days

  1. Clear and consistent expectations: Early on in the relationship, have an honest discussion with your PR team about your goals, internal processes, communication style and rules of engagement. Hold your team and your PR firm accountable, but stay consistent in your expectations so everyone knows how success is being measured.
  2. Streamlined communication and approval process: Even the most innovative PR program can grind to a standstill if there’s no one in charge on the client side. To give your PR team the best chance of success, set up an efficient communication and approval process that includes a primary point of contact and access to decision-makers.
  3. Internal resources and expertise: Treat your PR team members like new employees and spend the necessary time bringing them up to speed. Be responsive and openly share your internal resources and expertise. It’s an investment that will pay off when your PR agency starts functioning as an extension of your internal team.
  4. Access to metrics: In order to measure outcomes and not just output (See No. 1 in the agency section above), provide your PR team with access to Google Analytics and other internal data. While quantifying PR results can be tricky, providing access to these metrics will make it much easier to see how public relations is contributing to advancing your business goals.

If both sides do their part, the first 100 days with a new PR agency can lay the groundwork for a relationship built on mutual trust that will result in long-term success. What else would you add to these lists? Tell us in the comments below.