In recognition of the rise of virtual PR agencies, the PRCA recently launched a new version of its Communications Management Standard (CMS) designed specifically for a virtual business. We welcomed this development - we’ve always wanted to put The PR Network through the rigorous pace of CMS to demonstrate our high standards of governance - but until recently, the assessment criteria and process just didn’t fit with the virtual model.
Our co-founders jointly chair the PRCA's Virtual PR Agencies working group, and were approached by the PRCA last year to support the development and rollout of a special version of CMS that would officially measure and benchmark virtual agencies. We don't have an office and therefore file all our client and consultancy materials in the cloud, plus we work with dispersed teams all over the world using different systems. This model calls for a consistent approach to systems management to ensure strong client and team organisation. so we were delighted to work in consultation with our friends at the PRCA on this project.
This latest framework has stripped out some of the assessments that don’t make sense for virtual agencies, meaning agencies in our category can now gain accreditation on an even footing to our bricks and mortar peers. So we agreed as a management team to ‘take the CMS plunge’ in Q1 at our annual planning meeting.
As often happens in PR agency life, clients come first - and those vital plans to look after your own organisation can get somewhat delayed. Sound familiar? When lockdown hit the UK, we decided to put the extra desk time to good use, and set ourselves the target of taking and passing CMS before the end of Q2. At risk of spoiling the ending, we passed the test!
More importantly, we want to share our experiences and to encourage other virtual agencies to take up the CMS challenge. After all - the more trust we can build in our sector, the better for all of us.
We’re all virtual now, at least for the time being, so even if you aren’t ready to pass the test, embedding the framework now will help to make your virtual business more robust - with an eye on taking the assessment once your new processes have been adopted throughout your organisation.
With that in mind, here are our top five tips for any virtual agency leaders considering installing the CMS framework.
The PRCA will send you a spreadsheet detailing all the 'evidence' the assessor will need to see, across eight core areas. Go through the requirements in the spreadsheet, and be honest about your ability to provide the evidence in each area. If you‘re scratching your head - you probably aren’t ready. At this point you need to decide if the CMS is really for you, and if it is, use the framework to install better processes in your business. Then live those process for at least a year before coming back to take the assessment.
2. Divide and conquer
If you decide to go for it - don’t go it alone! The assessment envelopes all parts of the business from business planning and finance through to campaign management and HR. Whilst you might have a project manager to corral, they won’t know absolutely everything - so enlist a great supporting team 'on the bench' to share the load.
3. Don’t be humble!
Prior to the test you have to do your own self-assessment to ensure you're ready for the full assessment from the PRCA. Ironically, given we are in the business of PR, the inclination can be to mark yourself down, but it's best to be honest and acknowledge where you do score well. The scoring is very prescriptive for each section, and it's really simple to follow.
4. Be focussed and ready
The assessment slot allows 3 hours and you may take less time. So clear the desk, put on your OOO and ensure you're focused and ready on the day to give this your best shot.
5. Celebrate your strengths but work on your weaknesses
You don’t need to get 100% to pass, but that doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to it. Every day is a school day, so even if you do pass make sure you note any highlighted weak areas and work on them. Don’t forget, this is an annual exercise as the accreditation only applies for one year, so there’s always something to work on for next year!
I hope that gives you some insight into the challenges and opportunities that the new virtual CMS framework and assessment offers. For PRN, and I’m sure for many of our peers, it serves as a great opportunity to validate that we're actually doing ok and our virtual status is irrelevant - our standards are the same, and now we have the certificate to prove it!
Don’t just take it from us. In the words of Carol Magill, CMS Assessor at the PRCA:
“Congratulations to the The PR Network on achieving the new CMS designed for virtual agencies. It is worth highlighting the commitment to excellence The PR Network has shown by obtaining CMS for the first time at a very challenging period for business both in the UK and globally.
“During the CMS moderation process, The PR Network demonstrated that they are an agency which is deeply committed to delivering on complex, international campaigns, and is focused on transparency and measurable KPIs. The evidence on diversity was an especially strong aspect with evidence of active endorsement of diversity through the engagement of the company’s leadership in PRCA seminars, training and in representative groups on diversity.”
Our virtual house was in pretty good shape already, but going through this exercise has ensured all areas of our business are organised to the highest professional standard.
It costs just £499 to achieve the virtual agency CMS accreditation. Find out more here.