Let's Connect

Hi, I'm Tom Woolf and I have been practicing public relations and offering marketing communications strategies for 20 years. And I'm still learning from people like you. Drop me a line!

  • 20Oct

    There are many times that I see public relations as a relatively thankless job. As with many professions, your bosses or clients typically call out what went wrong with a program or campaign or when the results are lackluster. They seldom let you know when you hit it out of the park and do outstanding work – after all, isn’t that what they are paying you for?

    client-agency-relationshipsHowever, one of the things that clients often fail to understand is that any successful PR or marketing support team is only as good as the collaborative support they receive. If they don’t give you sufficient support and information, then the results will be only as good as you can deliver without setting the right objectives and doing the right data gathering from the outset. I have a couple of clients who make our regular strategy call a low priority and just assume that the program can bump along without much input. The real problem clients are the ones who expect I am supposed to read their needs and fill in the gaps to make the program work in a vacuum. As with computing, if you put garbage in, you get garbage out.

    I spotted an article in Ragan’s PR Daily last week that addresses some of these issues. The idea is that as an external consultant, you need to be a collaborative partner with your clients, and that’s a door that swings both ways. You not only need to give your best expertise and effort as the contractor, but the client needs to be forthcoming with any relevant information and concerns, and set an expectation that you can both agree upon so the desired results of the program are set in advance and measurable. Here is some wisdom from the nine tips on how to promote good PR/client relationship from Ragan’s PR Daily:

    1. Communicate goals and expectations. You need to agree on the objectives of the program and the key performance indicators, i.e. how to measure success, in advance! If you deliver a huge clip book for a product launch, for example, but all the client cares about is coverage in Gizmodo which didn’t cover the story, then you failed, no matter how many articles you generate. However, if the client didn’t clearly set Gizmodo as a priority, the failure is theirs for not communicating expectations.
    2. Commit time to communicate. This is a two-way commitment between the client and the consultant. You both need to set aside time to discuss strategy, tactics, and reaffirm goals and expectations. Your team can only be as good as the quality of information and access given, so make time to talk on a regular, scheduled basis, as well as with ongoing email, instant messaging, whatever it takes.
    3. Be respectful of agency time. Many PR firms bill by the hour, and others, including mine, bill on a retained basis, although I track billable time to gauge performance against the retainer. Clients need to be respectful of agency time. If they take up all your time for too little return, you will be less inclined to go the extra mile when they really need it.
    4. Demand feedback. Feedback needs to come from the client about performance, but the client also should rely on the PR consulting team to provide independent input on media perception, brand reputation, and what the market buzz is saying about their brand. The PR firm’s role is to provide neutral insight into brand reputation, and the client should be open to feedback.
    5. Be transparent. The client needs to communicate business goals and impediments to success in an honest, frank manner to get frank feedback. The PR team is working under confidentiality, and to be effective they need to know the good, the bad, and the ugly.
    6. Manage expectations. One of the reasons I try to work only with senior decision makers is I know I will get the straight story on what the expectations are for the program. Most programs fail not because of execution, but because the objectives for the program weren’t well defined in the first place. You may reach the defined goal, but the end result may not be what the client really wants because they failed to set the proper expectations.
    7. Give credit where it’s due. Positive feedback helps fuel the PR team. We all like to be praised for doing a good job, and I know I work harder for clients who appreciate the work. I always praise my team when they perform, and I love to get praise from the client when we do a good job. It really fires up the team.
    8. Challenge the PR team to deliver more. Ask for new ideas and creative input and you’ll get it, and more. The more interesting the project, the better the effort.
    9. Be a strategic partner. Okay, I know that all agencies say they are strategic partners for their clients, but that strategic relationship only works if there is mutual respect and shared goals. If your client can engage in a way where you feel invested in their success as part of the team, then the performance and results will be that much greater that if you are just asked to handle the block-and-tackle tasks.

    Successful PR and marketing programs are build on successful client communications and a mutual commitment to achieving results. It has to be a cooperative effort where both parties commit the time and resources necessary to make the relationship work. Lack of commitment and lack of communications will be sure to have a negative impact on any program.

    (With special thanks to Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications, who authored the original article for Ragan’s PR Daily and for the blog MENG Blend.

    Share

    Tags: , ,

  • 12Oct

    lampoon

    The Web has given new power to consumers as well as to marketers. The power of Yelp and online protests have been proven time and again as noisy consumers who complain about bad customer service or faulty products win out over corporations. Yet it still surprises me that name brands continue to abuse their customers in the name of greed and expect customers to just accept it.

    Netflix is the latest example. If you have been following the Netflix story, you know that Netflix first decided to raise its prices as part of the strategy to monetize its online streaming service, then they announced they were going to split their DVD operation and their streaming service in two with the launch of Qwickster. The customer backlash was substantial. Complaints started rolling in and the blogosphere was abuzz with commentary about Netflix’s insensitivity to its customers and its stupidity. It’s not as though they were the only game in town. Hulu Plus has been gaining momentum and there are other video services available.

    Netflix arrogantly was counting on its customer loyalty to see them through.They assumed that the goodwill they had built with their customers gave them the right to abuse that customer loyalty.

    Clearly, Netflix is not Apple. They don’t command the same rabid customer loyalty, but they also don’t offer the same level of customer service or the same level of innovation. Apple has build a trusted relationship with their customers. They have created a unique and consistent customer experience, and they keep their customers well informed about product changes and innovations, usually with a lot of fanfare and support.

    Which brings me to Comcast. In my household we have been having a challenging experience with Comcast Internet access over the past week. Comcast has an anti-virus service they are touting called Constant Guard, a malware security suite from Xfinity. This apparently is a free package offered to Comcast subscribers, but instead of promoting it through conventional opt-in marketing, Comcast is using malware marketing to force customers to adopt it. Comcast apparently monitors virus activity on computers connected to their network, whether you want them to our not and no matter what anti-virus software you use. And when Comcast sees a preset level of malware attacks, they hit you with their own popup that says your computer is infected with a bot. The popup requires you to make several clicks to a customer service center to deactivate it.

    We have four computers in our family, including both Macs and PCs, and they are protected by different anti-virus packages. We have all experienced this malware marketing program from Comcast, and we have all had issues getting rid of their popup. At first, we were naturally suspicious and assumed this was a malware attack, but after a couple of calls to a bewildered support team we finally found a representative at Comcast who admitted, “Yep, it’s ours.” In fact, we received a very empathetic call back from the regional customer service executive, who also seemed baffled and filed a trouble ticket. Ultimately, we received a call from another service rep who basically told us, “Yeah, it’s ours, We have uncovered tens of thousands of attacks on your computer. If you want it all to go away, just download our free software. And by the way, we are perfectly within our rights to do this so get over yourself” (or words to that effect).

    So this is how Comcast is selling its triple-play strategy, although I think it’s more like three strikes and you’re out. Comcast wants to force you to use their anti-virus solution, whether you want it or not. (I also should note that a scan of all the computers turned up no evidence of a problem, so clearly whatever protection we have in place seems to be working.)

    Let’s hope this is not a harbinger of things to come. Consumers should always have a choice as to what services they want to buy and what price they are willing to pay. There are times when even free looks too expensive.

    Share

    Tags: , , , ,

  • 07Oct

    Effective crisis communications includes means having a plan in place to deal with an emergency BEFORE the emergency hits. You don’t necessary need to think of every possible crisis, but you should have some basic fire drill procedures in place in case of a corporate crisis or a scandal or some other eventuality. That includes establishing a protocol to designate a leader in time of crisis. You need to find someone who has a clear head and can deal with the crisis clearly and efficiently. However, your designated hitter may not be available when you need them. So you need to have a pinch hitter ready when you need him or her. If you have a smaller organization and the boss becomes unavailable, it’s even more important to have a responsible alternative spokesperson at the ready.

    The trained spokespersons from “The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming”

    I saw a blog post this week from Jamillah Warner posted on Small Business Trends who offers a “3 Steps to Developing an Emergency Chain of Command for Your Business.” Jamillah offers a solid formula for establishing an emergency protocol quickly and efficiently that mirrors the best practices I recommend to my clients.

    Step 1: Define the emergency.

    This is not as easy as it sounds. It’s simple to think of fire, flood, pestilence, and other natural disasters, since they affect everyone. But it isn’t a real crisis unless there is a victim, or someone who has been perceived to have been harmed in some way. And by their nature, a crisis just happens; you can’t plan for it. So you need to be prepared for any eventuality. When the crisis strikes, you need to have an emergency plan ready, and a spokesperson in place to allay the fears of your customers and deal with the media.

    Step 2. Choose your leaders before you need them.

    When a crisis hits, you don’t want to waste time trying to sort out how to react. Any hesitation is seen as a failure or a chance to “cover up,” whether there is wrongdoing or not. It’s better to assign responsibility in advance. Choose your crisis leaders, define their roles, and train them in advance. And keep the information fresh with regular reminders and meetings. This transfers responsibility to those who need to be prepared should a crisis arise, and makes them feel ready.

    Step 3. Practice, practice, and practice some more.

    There is a reason why fire marshals insist on regular fire drills and emergency services train using mock disasters. It’s because practice makes perfect. Review possible crisis scenarios. Explore appropriate procedures and responses. Let people practice how to respond to an emergency. If you practice regularly, you give your leaders a chance to grow comfortable with handling any type of emergency. You also imprint positive habits and make it easier for the staff to rise to meet the challenge of an emergency. And if you choose the wrong crisis managers, then drills will reveal any problems and give you a chance to correct those problems or find a new leader.

    Crisis communications is too often overlooked, especially by smaller businesses who don’t think they need to be prepared. Everyone needs to be prepared in case of an emergency. Your business could be hit by fire, theft, fraud, or any number of things, and without a crisis plan, the impact could cost your business. You can start by designating the right people to handle emergencies so you can protect your operation.

    Share

    Tags: , , , , ,

   

Recent Comments

  • Having utilized a press release submission to promote many o...
  • Thanks Tom! I agree with your "time and place" assessment an...
  • Point taken, Marc. I guess over the years I started assuming...
  • You're absolutely right...kind of. Tom, my firm -- Strate...
  • Hi, Jennifer: In my business we use analyst quotes as indep...