A timely post about succession planning in PR

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By Linda Forrest

In the modern age of wikis and intranets, there’s no excuse for your PR program to fall apart when there’s a change in personnel.

Here are some top considerations for when your account director leaves and what succession plans should be in place to prevent all the tangible and intangible data associated with managing your PR program from walking out the door when you change account teams or even agencies.

Put all of your eggs in a shared basket

A best practices approach to PR program management indicates that all of the information pertinent to running the account reside in a centralized location, be it a media database, shared internal server, designated Dropbox, corporate intranet or wiki. The particulars do not matter – choose the medium that works best for your team. But it is essential that the archive of materials, passwords to accounts, media and analysts lists and other information instrumental to maintaining the program is accessible to those who will be taking over the program. This could be a new hire, another executive within the company or a newly promoted member of the account team. The information needed to effectively run the PR program cannot reside with the account director alone. Doing so is a recipe for disaster. While this article refers to the community manager, the same principles apply, and should be applied, to the PR function.

A good rule of thumb is this: pretend an alien came down from outer space and needed to take over the PR program — RIGHT NOW. Could the program’s management be easily handed over to someone with no prior knowledge of the account without any interruption in continuity? If the answer is no, it’s imperative that your agency set up the account such that a newbie would have all of the required tools, passwords, contacts and materials at their disposal.

Transition

Okay, so transition isn’t always possible. Someone could have a life event or career change that takes place suddenly, leaving other resources to pick up the ball mid-game. But in an ideal scenario, the change of resources is an event taking place within a time period that allows for knowledge exchange, questions and answers and preparation on both the client and agency side so that the transition is a smooth one. Leave time to ask and answer questions that may not be readily answered by a login to a media database or other document. You’ll be better off if the person transitioning off the account can share that anecdotal information about media contacts, processes, client preferences and other intangibles that usually spell the difference between a smooth transition and a bumpy one.

Training

In a boutique agency with a horizontal account structure, as opposed to a larger one with a vertical account structure, it’s probable that your account director has been chief cook and bottle washer on your account, with designated tasks assigned to individuals on the account team.  Everyone on the account is up to speed on the current messaging, coming events, goals and objectives, but those other than the account director may not be familiar with the minutia of the account.

Training plays an essential role in the transition of the account to a new director. Ensure that all members of the team who will now be responsible for the program’s execution know how to work all of the tools needed to distribute news releases, monitor media, and develop and issue reports. There should be minimal impact to the client when a key account team member departs.

The client angle

What if you’re not in an agency, but rather an organization that uses PR service providers? It’s imperative to the success of your ongoing program that you have access to the latest versions of all promotional materials, your media list, status reports… anything else that you would need to effectively manage the program yourself, whether using internal resources or changing to a different agency.

Why this topic?

Dear readers, I’m afraid this very post signals the end of my time at inmedia Public Relations and Francis Moran & Associates. (Okay, technically I’m on the clock until Monday…)

It’s been a wonderful seven years but it is time for a new challenge, in a new city. I’ve taken the role of Digital Media Communities Manager at the Canadian Digital Media Network based in Kitchener/Waterloo. If we’re not already connected, please do reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter and stay in touch.

I am certain that this blog will remain on the top of my reading list as I move into my new role. I’ll leave you in the capable hands of the rest of the associates and hope to see you in the comments section in the not-too-distant future.

Adieu.

Image: PassingTheBaton

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