What Good PR Clients Do
Since public relations isn't done "to" a company—it's done "with" the management team or owners—there's an essentially different nature to how this kind of professional service is successfully delivered. It's much more akin to legal or medical services with the "defendants" or "patients" (read: management team members) having to be deeply and consistently involved in an ongoing process.
As the now-famous slogan coined by tech PR guru Regis McKenna goes, "PR is a process, not and event."
Without recognition of that, PR generally goes nowhere—and the agency won't be working with that client for long.
Two Business Cards, One Team
PR is most productive when the agency and client people work as a team. The ideal is a blurred distinction between the two organizations. The goals are nearly the same, only the paychecks and business cards are different. Efficient teamwork and friendships develop, with the clients relying on agencies for a full range of strategic as well as tactical communications values. The agency is free to ask all questions, including the hard or perhaps embarrassing ones, and offer help wherever and whenever needed while remembering its charter to client service.
Exactly when things can go really right or very wrong is typically at the outset. The client/agency relationship should based on a high degree of trust and openness. You see this plea or expectation on agencies' Web sites all the time: "We have strong relationships with our clients." PR services need to be delivered like any other professional service, as typically required by lawyers or accountants. Public relations can truly add value to a business or organization only if the agency people have an intimate understanding of what's going on, warts and all.
An arms-length relationship, when the agency is seen as a "vendor" (like office supplies or a delivery service!), isn't going to yield effective long-term results because the agency won't have been let into what strategically bears on the business. Without such insider knowledge, PR plans will likely be off the mark, short-term and not deliver desired results that matter.