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Make PR agency trusted member of the team

When looking to hire a public relations or social media agency, most companies approach it in one of two ways: They view it as a means to selecting a supplier that can execute programs, or they hire a strategic partner they can trust to act as a fully integrated part of their internal team.

In most cases, companies aspire to the latter but, in the execution, don't always make it a reality.

To ensure the long-term success of a client-agency relationship, it is really important to set expectations early on how you will collaborate, not only with the agency but with your internal team.

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Successful collaboration occurs when a client and its agency exercise their creative muscles together and are seen as trusted partners. It fuses strategic planning and off-the-cuff discussions, and encompasses a non-linear route to arriving at a shared vision.

As a small-business owner, it's imperative to join forces from the beginning – keeping communication channels open and executing campaigns that reflect teamwork and passion.

Consider these tips for getting the most out of your agency:

1. Include your agency at the ideas stage

I have found that great ideas can come from anywhere. Too often, PR and social media agencies are brought into the strategic-planning process too late. A best practice is to bring in all of your agency partners early for the brainstorming and then assign the program development and execution based on the competencies of all agencies. Don't limit the thinking process by creating silos. Instead, create collaborative partnerships that drive integrated thinking.

2. Evaluate the variables

In a PR environment, numerous variables exist on a daily basis. You never know when an opportunity, issue or crisis will arise and turnaround times are tight. On-boarding your agency early with deep dives into your business and introductions to key decision-makers and thought leaders can make all the difference.

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Spend a minimum of two full days with your agency on-site, touring your offices, meeting your team and hearing about the vision and road map for your company. Ultimately, the only way to set them up for success is to fully integrate your agency into your team in the same way you would a new employee.

3. Engage senior leadership early

It's important for agencies to work with senior executives in order to understand a client's objectives and goals. Senior leaders often possess the experience, business acumen and high-level vision and insight needed to provide agencies with an effective briefing, and offer early direction that makes the process move faster.

An upfront briefing with senior leaders reduces costs and inefficiencies later, and fills in the gaps where key information may be absent at lower management levels.

4. Create regular check-ins and provide constant feedback

Your agency relationship should be managed the same way you would handle a top performer in your organization. You want to set clear goals early on, measure performance often and create environments for two-way dialogue and ongoing feedback.

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At minimum, senior teams should be meeting quarterly and have open discussions about what is, and is not, working.

In the first quarter, there will be a lot of learning, and both parties need to be patient and open to feedback. As the relationship strengthens, the feedback will happen more often and in more informal settings, but never stop doing the quarterly check-ins.

For small businesses, treating agencies as trusted, integrated team members and embracing collaboration are integral processes that move ideas along faster. This will help break down silos, inspire creativity and plant the seeds for great ideas.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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