“What press release?”

Red faces all round at the client meeting.

“Oh, you know, the one we were talking about a few months ago.”

Anxious shuffling of papers from the agency team. Slightly irritated look on the face of the client. Then suddenly, it fades.

“Oh no, hold on, I remember now. We canned it. Didn’t we? Yes, I think we did.”

Sound familiar? How many hours of wasted time do both clients and PR agencies clock up trying to keep track of what they are supposed to be doing, and have or have not done?

In some cases it must be a frightening total, as they scratch their collective heads trying to remember what happened to such and such case study that disappeared down a corporate black hole a while back, or so and so’s long lost article that never made it past the fifth draft. And what about that blog the CEO was supposed to be writing?

One of the biggest problems in client/agency relationships is keeping track of the status of every job, which is the reason why we at Aspectus PR take it so seriously. Indeed, we have developed our own online project management system called TwentyTwenty™, which we make available free of charge to all our clients.

The bottom line is that most agencies and clients tend to underestimate the importance of day-to-day reporting. They think they can get away with a system combining monthly reports and emails. But, in our experience, this is never enough. Something inevitably slips through the net and gets forgotten, only to be remembered again at some point in the future – to the embarrassment and confusion of all those concerned.

So why don’t clients insist on a totally fool-proof reporting system that guarantees that no project, however troublesome and protracted, ever falls off the agenda unless it is pushed? The simple answer is that it’s too easy to underestimate the sheer volume of two-way information flow between agencies and their clients.

Also, in the context of an exciting new relationship between an agency and a client, the subject of reporting systems can seem rather dull and insignificant, and best left for another day. Somehow, it is never given the airtime it deserves.

Yet, bad reporting systems are corrosive. They help to create tensions in the relationship between agencies and clients, as questions are raised about projects that cannot easily be answered at a meeting. They cause irritation, and can make people seem stupid or incompetent. At worst, they can completely undermine otherwise sound and successful relationships between agencies and clients.

But let’s be positive for a moment. What makes a good reporting system, and how should it work?

Here are some thoughts:

  • It should be easy to use, visually attractive, and easy to follow.
  • It should be comprehensive and instantly searchable, so that the client can establish the status of any project, no matter how far back in time it was
  • It should be available online
  • It should have a built-in alert system to ‘red flag’ any project in danger of missing a deadline, or to highlight anything needing urgent attention – either from the client or the agency
  • It should be used to track the agency’s performance against its targets

The latter is especially important if you are working on a performance related fee basis, as many Aspectus PR clients are.

Certainly, it’s time this neglected area of client service was given a higher profile in our industry. Perhaps PR Week should run an annual award for the best agency reporting system?

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