A relationship with a marketing communications firm can generate value in different dimensions:
immediate <-> long-term
tangible <-> intangible
external <-> internal
transactional <-> institutional
Most relationships focus on the left side of these continua—creating a brochure, Web site, annual report or presentation. The right side is more about "thinking" and less about "things"; more about engaging your entire organization as a marketing engine and less about artifacts. It's more about creating ambassadors.
To generate a value beyond the creation of things, you'll need to do several things.
Understand your in-house resources—hardware, software, skills and fluency with your story.
Develop and agree on an architecture of communications—print, digital and interpersonal.
Craft a messaging structure that is portable, one that not only informs the writing of different communications but also serves to build familiarity and comfort inside the organization.
Develop consistent approaches in all communications: use of language, color, type, imagery and composition. Your logo alone can't do this.
Transfer this thinking to those who communicate formally and informally. Support this thinking with appropriate tools and templates so that staff can create a data sheet on a rainy Sunday afternoon or build a convincing laptop presentation that doesn't look like everyone else's.
Does your marketing communications firm then go away? Not at all. But many ongoing tasks can move in-house.
Creating the process, thinking and tools to balance a transactional focus with a wider institutional view may cost more in the near term, but it's an investment that will pay off in many ways. The organization as a whole will be more engaged, and its employees will be better ambassadors. You'll be able to respond to opportunities more quickly. Most important, you'll be focused on telling your story and on building and reinforcing relationships--not on whether your new Web site should have beveled buttons.
Roger Sametz is founder and president of Sametz Blackstone Associates, Boston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.