The journey of embedding a new client into the agency
So, you've won the pitch, and the euphoria of success brings much adrenaline and excitement across the agency. We all know the feeling! However, the journey ahead and any success we achieve with this new partnership depends on the detail and depth of the next stage - the onboarding process – a sometimes overlooked but critically defining moment in the new client relationship.
There are many ways to embed a new client. The best approach is to go in with eyes wide open and put the necessary parameters to set the agency up for success from the get-go. This is so we can deliver early and meaningful gains and impact to the client in the honeymoon (let's-get-to-know-each-other) partnership phase and quickly build towards a sustainable level of high-quality consulting momentum. I say sustainable because we need to deliver valued counsel and impact every week, every month, and every quarter.
That takes a lot of effort, smarts, and proven methodologies to keep the engine humming on all cylinders – at both strategic and execution levels. This consistency of delivery clients buys from a trusted PR agency partner. That said, be faithful to the well-being of both client and your agency team at this early stage. The needs of your team and client's needs must collectively be front and centre for this partnership to work.
How do we kick off?
The question is often raised, what investment should we make during the onboarding phase? The Comms industry invests heavily in strategy, planning time, insights gathering, and hard slog to win a pitch. We're all familiar with burning the candle at both ends when the pitch deadline looms. However, once you win the pitch, commit the first month's retainer to embed into the client's organisation and become familiar with the many layers of their business and their leadership narrative.
The pathway I have found most rewarding, gained from multiple client immersion phases across national and international agencies, is to ensure the team has full support and guidance for embedding quickly and effectively.
Proven learnings that could be applied:
- Download as much information in that first month as time allows. It will benefit the agency team down the track to embrace this early time to become adept, fluid, and familiar with your client's organisation. Read and download all that is available, request copies of internal comms planning documents, key positioning papers, product overviews if relevant, Q&As, global messaging as well as brand guidelines, anything to arm the agency team with the insights needed to accelerate their knowledge levels. It may feel like information overload, but that's par for the course. Ensure your internal drive directories are set up to house the incoming volume of content from the client so the materials can be easily located down the track.
- Deep dive into the key functional areas of the business and get to know the internal stakeholders. Together with your main comms client, the executive leaders of the business hold the key to understanding the organisation, its goals, growth challenges and areas they need PR to focus on. Remember, the more you know about the organisation, the more impactful and informed your trusted counsel will be. Schedule time with the CEO, CTO, CMO, head of people and culture, and operations, as well as the head of sales and the lead for strategy or similar decision-making roles. These contacts will be critical partners for the agency.
- Set in motion the cadence of contact with your day-to-day comms executive to enable clear lines of communication, their preferred weekly program check-ins, and ways of reporting. Further, now that we're in the post covid era, a regular cadence to meet face to face and build rapport is also valuable.
- Write up a timetable of actions and deliverables for the immersion month to share with the client and gain their buy-in so both the client and agency team are aligned on what the first month brings and what level time of commitment and time is needed to get the relationship humming.
- Schedule a handover from the previous agency. If this is not possible, raise the right questions with your client as to what worked, what didn't and what we can learn and apply from their experience. We trust the majority of previous agencies will have made every effort to drive impact. However, we also accept that clients may have experienced unmet needs from their former agency – and the more we know, the better our ability to meet those needs. This conversation, though it may well be uncomfortable for both outgoing agency and new client, needs to be fuelled by honesty and transparency so we can learn from previous experience.
- Make sure the junior members of the team are as active as the seniors – their contribution and impact is just as important to the smooth running of the account. Give them meaningful responsibility and access to the client early in the relationship, and they will shine.
All these aspects will bring collective, focused, and healthy momentum to the account at a time clients need validation and assurance that they've made the right decision to award your agency with the communications contract. Shared vision for success and respect for the rich capabilities on both sides of the relationship will provide the foundation for a long term, high-performing partnership.