Agency Partnership

INK’s Five Things: Choosing the Right Client Partnerships

By Starr Million Baker


When Kari and I sat down to contemplate INK’s creation, one of the things we were most excited about was having control over our own destiny. We made it a fundamental tenet of INK that we’d choose the client partnerships we enter into because we believe the best work is built together.

The idea that we don’t work with every company that comes calling is often a surprise to employees and prospects alike. But fit is essential to the success of our communications programs, and we take that fit seriously. We measure the potential of every partnership we’re considering using our “five things” – as inspired by the late, great Ann Richards and our good friend Kerry Tate. To determine whether a company is a good fit for INK, we aim to answer yes to at least four out of our five.

Checking out INK as an agency partner or building your own list of client partnership criteria? Here are ours.

1. Will We Have Decision Maker Access?

One might assume that the person who reaches out to us looking for an agency partner is the key decision maker – that’s actually less often the case.

To do what we need to do, which is to ensure the partnership is a good one for all parties, we must have access to the ultimate decision makers. These are the people with knowledge about the program, the industry, and the desired future state of the business. INK needs to tap into that knowledge in order to have fruitful discussions about a path forward.

It’s also helpful if our key decision maker, or someone else on the team we’ll be working with, has worked with a communications or public relations agency before. This history lends itself to efficiency. Through their experience, the client will have some knowledge of how they like – or don’t like – to work with an agency, and we can all move a bit faster.

2. Does It Fit Our Industry Expertise?

INK was built on a backbone of B2B technology. This backbone – of security, data, enterprise, wireless, cloud, fintech, and more – means we can look at the world, and our clients’ stories, from a unique perspective. We’ve had decades of experience turning technical detail into titillating storylines that spark people’s interest.

On top of that B2B tech base, we’ve layered on expertise in B2C technology, renewable energy, and even the technology behind beer and wine production. Come to find out, most stories these days are technical in nature – which makes INK a great partner to communicate the ins-and-outs of tech-enabled businesses.

Do we help promote hair products? No. But if what you’re bringing to market will forever change people’s lives because of the technology you’ve deployed, come talk to us.

3. Is It Financially Viable?

Here’s the deal: we’re a business, working with businesses. Budgets need not be a difficult topic to discuss. We help our clients become more successful, and they pay us for that. We command a fair price for our services – our minimum client engagement is $200,000 in fees per year, with clients generally spending $360,000 to over $1.2 million annually for the integrated programs we run. Those include public relations – media, analyst and influencer relations; content; design; digital; and the strategy, planning, and research that forms the basis of all campaigns.

We’re also open to doing a series of projects with a minimum investment of $40,000 for the first engagement.

The majority of these are centered around market research, brand identity, messaging and positioning, and product launches.

Working on retainers isn’t our preference – they just don’t usually leave a good taste in anyone’s mouth. We do like to set minimum monthly budgets for planning and staffing purposes, and we find this works well for most of our clients too.

Finally, we want long-term partnerships and find we’re not alone in that. Our typical client engagement lasts from two to five years, enabling us to reach important milestones and long-term visions for success. This means we engage with only a small number of new clients each year due to the depth and commitment of our relationships.

4. Are They Open to a Hot Start?

We believe in quick wins. When we immediately prove our own value, our clients aren’t put in a position where they’re unable to do so on our behalf. We’ve found that the best way to ensure those quick, valuable wins is to start the program off on the right foot.

The “hot start” means we’re all in agreement that we have a problem to solve, and we need to get to it. Usually, hot starts involve some level of research or communications diagnostic, and we always have an eye to strategic planning that lays the groundwork for quick wins and long-term program success.

This may seem obvious – after all, agencies and clients always want to start their relationship off on the right foot. But being open to a hot start means agreeing that the front-end of the relationship is probably going to cost more. Research is time-consuming and required of all smart, foundational communications programs.

5. Is There ‘Good Work’ Potential?

This last one is a requirement: can we be successful for this client? Can we do good work that we’re proud of and that will have impact – on us, on the client’s business, on the client’s audiences, and on the world around us? Or does this story just not have legs?

We only take on clients for which we can do good work. We’re growing a business here, but we’re committed to enjoying that growth too.

All that said, the ultimate question we always ask ourselves is this: “Is working with this client in line with our mission – can we do good work with good people, the combination of which will make for a good life?” If all signs point to a resounding yes, we’re in good shape.