I start a new job several times a year. While I haven’t left the public relations and communications agency I helped found in Silicon Valley 32 years ago, my role puts me in a position to start all over again and again. And I love it.
As chief strategist and CEO of McGrath/Power Public Relations and Communications, my “career” begins anew each time we win a new client. It is a refreshing and invigorating opportunity to treat the new relationships as if I was indeed starting a job. It gives me the chance to take a step back, adjust my sights beyond the boundaries of my own business and parachute into a new company with new challenges, opportunities, intrigue and interpersonal dynamics. During this immersion, I have always felt the first 90 days is the most critical timeframe to establish the foundation of the relationship that will set the tone for our partnership and performance for months to come.
Hiring a communications agency is an important step for a company regardless of size or marketplace. The company is trusting a team to come in, understand its business, digest its issues and then rapidly execute against objectives. In many respects, this isn’t much different than bringing on a new full time employee except that, in our case, we are different. We are outsiders, we aren’t in the line of sight onsite every day and have to earn our way in to the relationship in a different fashion than an employee. Because of that, we have to work harder and faster to gain trust, establish one-on-one relationships, and learn who holds what secrets while also beginning to implement our recommendations in a high quality fashion. That is a lot of balls to have up in the air at once.
McGrath/Power is a highly process- and metrics-driven organization, and the things I focus on in the first 90 days are somewhat different than my colleagues. My business partner oversees client service implementation and each of our account teams is focused on service delivery. I tend to take a more macro view and focus on ensuring that we are strategically aligned on the communications program, developing initial relationships with the client team while also seeking to understand how we can also help the members of that team achieve their personal growth goals. A few of the key activities I undertake in the first 90 days are:
- Aligning Communications With Business Goals: In certain instances, clients will hire us based on one set of criteria, but then ask us to implement against a new set of criteria once we are part of the team. We are a nimble team and accustomed to changes, of course, so I work to ensure that whichever direction is decided upon, our communications program is built to truly support the business goals of the organization. Failure to do so can produce “results,” but often not the kind that visibly move the needle. I make it a point to speak to different members of the client team and play back goals I have heard over the journey from initial pitch to hire. It is essential that this gets nailed down properly before a formal plan is created.
- Find Out Where The Skeletons Are Hidden: The fact that we have been hired generally means that somebody else failed before us. An agency is like the old baseball adage that states a manager is essentially hired to be fired. We’ve had a good track record with long term client relationships – some as long as 10 years – and that is largely because in addition to doing good work, we’ve also worked to understand the do’s and don’ts of working with a particular company. The agency we have just replaced isn’t there for a variety of reasons over and above performance, so I generally ask questions about what went wrong and why. This has proven important to understanding the dynamics of how the client prefers to work, specific individual preferences and potential landmines.
- How Can We Help You?: We know how our agency can help the company in question because we’ve just done extensive research on their business, the communications program in place before our arrival, and the competitive landscape and aligned all of that with the recommendations that won us the business. However, the people that hired us can also benefit from our work because part of our job is to make them look good, as well. It is very helpful to understand what is important to the individuals we are working with at the client company. Do they have any initiatives they are personally spearheading that we can support? Is there something specific our contact’s supervisor is personally overseeing that should be given additional attention? Are we fully aware of our contact’s management by objectives and are any facets of our program designed to support them? Whatever we can do to support the personal goals of our client contact should be taken into consideration without compromising the overall work at hand.
The first 90 is both an exciting and important time for our team when we begin a new client relationship. While I’ve spent the last three decades at McGrath/Power, the first 90 with a new client never fails to reinvigorate me. Use those first three months wisely as they are the foundation for all that comes next.