PR is a job with a lot of moving parts. There are client calls to join, interviews to staff, pitches to send and proposals to write. On any given day, a PR practitioner’s to-do list might touch five or twenty clients, depending on the size of the agency. There’s a lot to keep track of, and a missed opportunity or overlooked typo can make or break the success of a campaign.
In my own PR career, I’ve seen the difference an organized procedural framework can make for an agency’s daily job functions, and I’ve since dedicated my career to discovering ways to cut through the clutter and make things run smoothly. Here, I’ll walk you through six simple steps for identifying problems and implementing operational changes — at any agency.
STEP 1: Identify the Issue
Especially in an agency setting, it’s often the account servicing teams who are the first to notice procedural bottlenecks. Are internal assets difficult to locate? Are daily tasks falling through the cracks? To pinpoint these types of problems, agencies should ensure that all team members have a dedicated means of reporting them, whether it be an operations manager, a Slack channel or a feedback form.
Let’s use this example:
Team members have been spending a great deal of administrative time to develop interview briefers. They’re tedious to format, and typically require a great deal of internal editing before they're client-ready. One account lead has expressed concerns that this task has become a time waster, making the team less efficient and causing clients the inconvenience of having very little time to review their key talking points before the interview takes place.
Once the issue has been called out, take a step back to develop a clear understanding of the problem at hand before diving into any actionable steps. By clearly defining the problem, you can set yourself up for success in solving it.
STEP 2: Define Success
Now that the problem has been identified, ask yourself this: What does success look like, in concrete terms?
To continue with our example, success in this case might look like this:
Account teams will have a standardized way to compose interview briefers, and account staff will be able to create them more quickly, with fewer internal edits. As a result, interview briefers are landing in clients’ inboxes quickly, and account teams are freed up to spend less time on this administrative task, and more time generating new interview opportunities.
By defining success in concrete terms, you can then develop the necessary procedures required to get you there. In our hypothetical scenario, the logical solution might be to develop a simple template for all future interview briefers.
STEP 3: Ask the Team to Weigh In
Before implementing any type of operational change, present the solution to any staff who will be impacted and allow them to have an active role in fine-tuning the solution, as well as give an idea of how the execution of that solution might look.
Let them know how it affects them in their roles, and explain why the change is being implemented. That might sound something like this:
Hello team! We’ve developed a proposed template to use for all future client interview briefers. The reason for this will be to make these documents quick and easy to create, reduce internal edits, and alleviate the time wasted on this particular administrative bottleneck. What do the account teams think should be included in this template? Should we make any changes? Does this format seem useful?
After we align, whenever a briefer is needed, you simply go to this template in the Google Drive, make a copy, move it to your client folder, and edit according to the opportunity. When complete, please leave at least one business day for your account lead to review and approve it, before sending to the client at least one business day ahead of the interview itself to allow for questions.
Any questions, comments, feedback? Let us know!
Ask questions, and take team feedback into consideration to ensure the change is putting you on the path to achieving that definition of success as you’ve defined it.
STEP 4: Execute the Solution
Now, it’s time to put your solution to the test. Outline any next steps for the team, including where to find the necessary materials and when the changes should go into effect and distribute the solution. Make sure these protocols are easily accessible over any and all modes of communication that your team uses (e.g., email, a handbook, a shared document drive, etc.). This will ensure the team feels fully informed and able to execute that solution with as little oversight as possible, which will maximize efficiency in and of itself.
In our example, this would involve the creation and distribution of the template.
STEP 5: Reevaluate
After several days or weeks of using the new procedure, revisit your definition of success. Have you achieved it? Why? Why not? Open the floor for team feedback, and check in to see whether the initial problem has been alleviated. Encourage honest feedback, and measure team members’ experiences against your initial goals.
In this case, you’d ask whether the new template has indeed reduced the time it takes to get those interview briefers out the door and into clients’ hands efficiently.
STEP 6: Evolve as Needed
Sometimes, a solution simply isn't effective. Other times, it may not be effective in the long-term. Be ready to make adjustments. If the new procedure didn’t get you to that place of success, change it! As an agency grows, it will require procedures and solutions to scale alongside it.
Long-term operational efficiency requires an evolving vision of success. The only way to grow a truly successful PR agency — and grow it well — is to engage in a continuous conversation with the organization and with yourself. Ultimately, that fluid approach to success will make for happier teams, and more satisfied clients.
Want to learn more about my six-step process for improving agency operations? Check out the PR Wine Down podcast here.