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Three years. That is the average length of today's client-agency relationship. That average is less than half of what it was 20 years ago, and it continues to decline.

Clients decide to move on from a PR agency for various reasons, many of which are completely avoidable if you start your agency search off right from the very beginning.

Having led a PR and marketing agency for the past 15 years, I have seen what works and what doesn't when building an agency-client relationship. No matter the type of client, success always starts with a strong partnership built on cultural fit, clarity of roles, and strategic alignment both on goals and the measurement of success.

So, what does it mean to have a strong agency partnership? And how do you start building one?

Here are seven questions to ask when vetting and interviewing an agency—and what you should know before you even begin your search.

1. What industries do you specialize in?

A successful agency needs to have quality storytelling abilities and strong relationships with the right reporters, but it's also to your advantage when an agency has knowledge of the industry trends that are influencing, or will influence, your business.

If an agency is a direct participant in and a driver of thought leadership in your area of interest, then you can be assured that agency understands your business and can give you access and insights. Such deep industry expertise means they are on top of the trends that the media in your space care about, and so they can inject you into those stories and help you make business decisions based on market intel.

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image of Jennifer Tramontana

Jennifer Tramontana is president of The Fletcher Group, a sought-after communications partner for B2B growth companies.

LinkedIn: Jennifer Tramontana

Twitter: @Tramontana