5 questions to ask before you outsource your communications

by Meg Fowler Tripp for the Center for Association Leadership

Your job is to develop communications that meet multiple needs and build your organization’s brand—no small task. The right communications partner can help you streamline the process and achieve the goals you set for yourself.

The life of a communications professional is a busy one—fielding requests from across your organization, and dealing with alarm-style deadlines. How do you craft a coherent, strategic brand when the pressure is on?

An experienced brand strategy partner can help you overcome your creative hurdles—but finding the right collaborator is the first step. You want a partner who will equip you for success, instead of leaving you with a system you can’t put to work on your own.

Whether you’re assessing agency pitches, sifting through responses to RFPs, or meeting with prospective partners, make sure to ask questions that will connect you the right agency.

Getting to Know You

Your brand should tell people who you are and who you hope to become—so be sure to ask your potential partners how they plan to get to know you.

You want a communications collaborator to equip you for success, not leave you with a system you can’t use on your own.

Intentional conversations—internal discussions and external chats with partners or members—are fundamental to discovery. Whether your team expresses themselves as individuals or in groups, their perspective is invaluable.

An audit of your communications—print and digital—is a solid next step for your partner’s discovery process. A competitive audit identifies the other organizations or media sources competing for your audience’s attention—giving your communications partner a sense of the landscape you operate in.

While it can be a good idea to work with a partner who knows your industry, be sure they don’t think they have you figured out before the collaboration begins. Ask your potential partner how they will share what they learned through the discovery process, how they plan to act on it, and how that plan will be tailored to you.

Clearing for Takeoff

You might only have one individual or a small team working with your communications partner, but you’ll need to gather feedback and approval from others in your organization along the way. Ask the partner how they plan to gain buy-in at critical points in the creative process.

Whether that plan involves regular checkins, or presentations with a broader circle of stakeholders, you’ll be more successful if you include the right people at the right time.

Telling Your Never-Ending Story

Your agency will be doing plenty of storytelling—but developing compelling, authentic, and sustainable content is a job they can’t do alone. That’s why it’s important to ask how they’ll approach every step of your content creation process.

A thoughtful content strategy keeps both teams on the same page and ensures everyone knows:

  • the vehicles you’ll be focusing on: website, print pieces, social channels, and any others
  • the content to fit those vehicles: information about your vision and mission, first-person stories, nuts-and-bolts administrative information
  • the formats you’ll use: copy, imagery, multimedia, and so on
  • who will gather, produce, edit, verify, and approve each piece of content
  • how you’ll keep that content updated and refreshed

Setting You Up for Success

Your brand won’t be ready for primetime until you’ve got the tools and training to implement it.

You want your communications partner to have a thoughtful approach to rolling out, training, and organizing resources. If you’re not comfortable taking the baton when your project concludes, you might not finish the race. During your vetting process, ask your candidates about their approach to documentation and training. If your organization needs something specific to be successful, don’t be afraid to ask for it.

If you’re ready to embark on a brand building project, a candid conversation about each partner’s approach will give you the insight you need to make the right choice. After all, their goal should be to make your life easier, not more complicated.