Client onboarding: How we build a foundation for PR success
June 9, 2021 • 5 minute read
Many of the firms that appoint a communications agency do so after an exhaustive search and having conducted several meetings before making a final decision. However, even after a choice has been made, not all the stakeholders at these organizations are aware of how both parties will need to work together to meet their goals and achieve the desired media coverage.
My first ever boss in the communications industry used to say that PR was ‘not a tap you turn on and guarantee instant coverage,’ stressing that various key steps needed to be implemented first before the desired results could be achieved. It was a line I would come to hear time and time again during my early years as a junior consultant, before becoming a mantra that I too would repeat back to new clients as I progressed in my career.
These key steps refer to the ‘onboarding’ process, an immersive start-up procedure that represents a critical first step in the relationship between a client and its appointed agency partner. If handled properly, a well-executed onboarding can set the tone for a successful partnership and engaged internal stakeholders. Without that time investment it can be much more difficult to get the most out of the client / agency partnership.
At Infinite Global we believe our comprehensive onboarding program is one of the reasons why we have so many long-term clients. It ensures we have a deep understanding of their goals, the right processes in place to capitalize on media opportunities, and a shared vision of success.
Our process involves four principal activities:
We want to absorb as much information as possible about our clients. Through in-take meetings with key stakeholders in the PR program, we learn about our client’s challenges, priorities and reputational risks. These conversations help shape the strategic PR plan that our clients adopt, aligning our media efforts with their business development goals.
If this step is skipped, we risk not being aware of any important upcoming milestones with PR value that could be leveraged for media coverage. At this stage we may also have a general idea of what the client’s target audience looks like, but there is a danger missing out on potential opportunities by failing to define who we are targeting on behalf of the firm with which we’re working.
Lastly, it’s essential that we get to know the clients’ stakeholders, understanding their priorities, goals and their individual areas of expertise through face-to-face conversations. This insight is vital when pitching thought leadership topics to our media contacts, and also reassures our key contacts that the media coverage we pursue is highly strategic rather than random.
2. Establishing metrics for success
A shared sense of mission is essential to a productive client-agency relationship. That’s why we work with clients to decide on specific metrics for evaluating the PR program—and clearly defining those metrics. Agreeing on these KPIs avoids wasting resources or being misaligned on success when coverage is achieved.
These metrics are never the same for any two clients, as each organization we represent will have varying strategic goals that a solid PR campaign can help support. This step is also vital for our Intelligence or Content campaigns, where press coverage could be replaced by social media hits, website traffic or internal engagement as key metrics for success.
3. Clarifying roles and responsibilities
While we are learning about our clients, it’s also vitally important that they learn about us. During the onboarding process, we make sure clients know how we work—the roles and responsibilities within our teams—and explain how we can help them achieve their goals. Some stakeholders may not always be familiar with how PR works, so it’s paramount that we make sure they understand the value we can bring. This can be especially true of stakeholders working outside of the client’s internal marketing/PR team, who don’t always understand what our purpose is and what we’re able to accomplish on their behalf.
4. Developing protocols and channels of communication
We develop clear protocols with clients and establish clear channels of communication to ensure we can capitalize on PR opportunities. No client interacts with its agency in the same way, but we all key stakeholders are part of the process.
By arranging regular check-in calls, establishing reporting methods and general procedure, we implement a clear system early on so the client doesn’t have to question how they’re being prioritized on a day-to-day basis. The contacts we liaise with regularly may wish to receive different types of activity reports that they can in turn pass on to their leadership team.
Lastly, we make sure that both parties are speaking the same language so that nothing is lost in translation and expectations from both sides are managed. This is especially important in the professional services sector where industry buzzwords and acronyms are commonplace.
With these four main steps completed, we’re perfectly positioned to begin pursuing media opportunities with all the required inside knowledge about our clients, their goals and areas of expertise.