Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. – Henry Ford
Major corporations, big businesses, nonprofit organizations and small up-start outfits have at least one thing in common when it comes to public relations: Many of them – no matter the industry, audience, opportunity or challenge – can benefit from the assistance of external teams to lead and execute effective PR campaigns.
Seeking third-party assistance is standard across many disciplines. Consultants are commonly tapped for change management initiatives, technology transformations and human capital endeavors. As changes in media and journalism continue to disrupt practices and scatter specializations, organizations and businesses, too, similarly align strategically with external public relations and communications providers to formulate solutions and drive results.
But combining the efforts of internal employee teams and external, outsourced PR providers can be a delicate dance. In fact, it may be a bit like a blind date, with all the awkwardness of the unknown and the anticipation of the potential lying in wait. Here are some practical pointers sure to ease the introduction and collaboration between internal staffers and external public relations pros.
- There’s a Reason for the Season. Companies and organizations do not arbitrarily engage with external PR consultants. Strategic business imperatives, often related to reputational safeguarding, brand identity or marketability, drive the partnership.
“Nonprofits and businesses connect with us to build more awareness, influence key stakeholders or increase visibility for a specific initiative,” says Vanessa Wakeman whose firm The Wakeman Agency has led awareness campaigns for Grace Institute and the New York Urban League among many others.
- This Is Not a Turf War. Sometimes internal PR staffers view hired PR guns with cynicism and suspicion. Perhaps they feel sufficiently situated to manage the campaign or initiative internally, or maybe they’ve had unsavory experiences with external consultants previously.
Nonetheless, the balance between internal staff members and external PR teams should be a joint partnership, not an adversarial association. “Tag-teaming towards shared goals, all contributors should be confident and feel empowered in the role they play,” Wakeman says.
- We Must Help Each Other. [tweet bird=”yes”] Hiring a PR agency is not like a 400-meter relay race [/tweet] – handing off the baton and walking away doesn’t work. The purposeful involvement of both sides is critical. “The reality is that PR consulting is a collaborative process,” Wakeman explains. “The PR agency needs the client to be forthcoming with information and transparent to help shape the campaign.”
- PR Agencies Are Staffed by Humans, Not Magicians. Sometimes clients rigidly or exclusively gauge the performance of external PR firms by media placements, prioritizing incredibly high headline counts over other more nuanced and complex measures of effectiveness, like tonality or engagement levels, according to Wakeman. “PR engagement includes other components,” she says. “One of our roles in serving the client is to educate them about how we can effect change and promote progress in other areas as well. This helps to build trust and lay the groundwork for new ideas.”
- Communication is Key. As in all relationships, staying in the loop and keeping lines of communication open are fundamental. Talking things out and clarifying expectations sets the tone for future conversations and interactions. Communication should be continuous from both sides: internal resources are often privy to and poised to share details beneficial to external efforts, and outside PR providers may have greater bandwidth to study and present new approaches. Embracing this dynamic creates a flow that fosters flexibility and allows agility.
From social media aggregators and website plug-ins to new best practices and external PR, events and marketing experts, internal organizational communicators have many resources at their disposal to enhance productivity, streamline processes and boost results. Engaging outside public relations expertise for campaigns and agency planners for events is just one more strategy in a well-stocked outreach arsenal.
“Contracting with a PR firm to plan an event, launch a public relations campaign or develop social media and marketing plans is a signal of success, not weakness,” says Wakeman. “Often the resulting collaboration combines the best of both worlds – the leverage of internal subject matter experts with the versatility and bandwidth of nimble and adept professionals devoted to client satisfaction.”
How does your team keep collaboration with external PR firms and event planning agencies diplomatic and directed on the end goal? What are the greatest benefits this cross-functional tag-teaming offers?