• 14Nov

    So where do your customers hang out? What are they reading? Where are they going for the latest market information? Those are the questions that should keep my clients app at night. I know I spend a lot of time and energy pondering those questions on their behalf.

    The simple answer is they read everything and are everywhere. In the age of the Web, links can take you anywhere so whether your client gets of coverage in the local weekly or the leading trade journal, it’s all good. This is part of the school of thought that believes “any PR is good PR,” which is only partially true. What makes good PR is preaching your audience with the right brand message in the right context.

    Broadening your niche– I just had a client tell me that he wasn’t interested in an interview with Forbes because his technology customers aren’t small business. He would rather see coverage in the technology trades that cover his TLA technology*. Granted, you want to get strong coverage in those trade journals that have a strong presence in your market, especially for B2B marketing. However, you can be too laser focused. Any B2B story has to demonstrate broader business value, which should make pit appealing to any business publication. You never know where your next customer goes to get his or her information,

    Big business and brand cache – Then thee are those clients who only want coverage in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. That is coveted editorial coverage, but the big name media outlets have limited space and fairly specific rules of engagement. I don’t know how many times I have had o explain to start-ups that the business press are looking for a demonstrated track record. Without a stock ticker or some high-profile customers to explain why they can’t live without your product or service, the chances of getting coverage as an upstart newcomer are pretty slim.

    Social media – The big question for everyone is how big a role does social media play in generating brand visibility and nurturing customers. I had a conversation with a client earlier this week who has been investing a lot of time and money in building his presence on Google Plus and Facebook to attract fans. As he sees it, “It’s the long game. This strategy will pay off over time.” And I am sure he is right. Customers feel better about their buying decision when they feel an affinity for a brand; they are buying from someone they feel they know and that has already become part of their consciousness because of the social media experience.

    Everywhere else – Context can be as important as content. Where prospective customers or brand influencers encounter your brand can be as meaningful as the message. R example, a story in the local paper about your company’s participation in the annual Aids Walk says more about your company and its culture than how cool your latest product is. When a prospect does a news search on the be, those stories will show up next to the spec sheets, and will leave a positive impression that may tip the scales when it comes time to make a sale.

    Who’s whether or not you believe that all PR is good PR, don’t make your media targets too laser focused. To build brand awareness, you want to tell your story in different ways to appeal to your audience on multiple levels. Your customers are lurking in unlikely places, so don’t be afraid to engage them in as many ways as you can.

    * TLA is three-letter acronym

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  • 08Feb

    The only constant is change. And when it comes to client relations, sometimes one of your outgrows the relationship and it comes time to break up. Breaking up is never easy, but when you know the relationship is no longer working, then you have to face facts and tell your client, “I’m sorry, but it’s over.”

    I have had a lot of those moments in the past few weeks. With the coming of the New Year, there are changes in strategy, budget, staff, and what used to be a great working relationship suddenly changes. Here’s a litany of my recent client break-up experiences:

    1. New company direction and budget reset for 2012 – marketing and PR support is no longer a priority.
    2. New marketing executive who decides to bring in his own team.
    3. Economy has reduced the client’s budget to the point where you lose money working for them at a reduced rate.
    4. The client’s demands are starting to take up more of your time, but they won’t  allocate more budget and they are increasingly slow to pay your invoices.

    breaking-upAny of these sound familiar? Working with clients can be a lot like dating. As long as the relationship has mutual benefit then you continue to work together, but if one or the other party becomes disenchanted, well… I actually see it as part of my mission to help my clients outgrow my services. If I am good at my job, the client company’s business will expand to the point where they need more marketing and PR resources, which means it’s time to hire more in-house staff or bring in a bigger firm. I’m always satisfied when that happens because it means I have done my job and they client has evolved to the next level. It’s all part of the business lifecycle.

    Still, breaking up is always hard to do. When it becomes clear that the working relationship is no longer of mutual benefit, it’s time to part company. Sometimes you will find that a client wants too much, or is detracting from more profitable work, or is just too difficult to work with. Pareto’s Principle of 80/20 indicates that 20 percent of your clients probably make up 80 percent of the workload. They also should make up 80 percent of your profits, but not necessarily contribute 80 percent of the headaches.

    When it’s time to say goodbye, it’s always difficult. You don’t want to turn away business, even if it gets in the way of finding something more lucrative. Somehow, the idea of firing a client seems to bad for business, when in reality, getting rid of a bad client is the best thing you can do for your operation.

    So how do you do it? Be professional and be up front. We all like to avoid conflict, and that leads to unclear communications and passive-aggressive behavior that just makes things more difficult. You want to end the relationship in a way that you both have respect for one another, and so you can use that soon-to-be-former client as a reference later on. Here are some tips I’ve borrowed from Nellie Akalp of CorpNet that you should find useful.

    1. Remove emotion from the equation. I know I tend to get pissed off at clients for any number of reasons. Don’t make decisions when you feel angry or hurt; it will be the wrong decision. Instead, assess the client relationship calmly and rationally and weigh the pros and cons before you decide to part ways. If you find your ego being bruised time and again by the same client, then listen to your instincts.

    2. Honor the contract. My contracts have a termination clause – typically from two weeks to 30 days. Be sure you have fulfilled your part of your contract and honored all of your obligations. It’s good business and will help you secure a reference if you need one, and keep you out of trouble. Beside, it’s just the right thing to do.

    3. Schedule a meeting. It’s so easy to send an email or leave a voice mail message. It’s also a cowardly way to avoid confrontation. Schedule a personal meeting or at least a phone call to explain your position, come to a mutual understanding, and discuss any transition. Meeting face-to-face may be uncomfortable but it’s the right thing to do. (You wouldn’t dump your girlfriend with a text message or PostIt would you?)

    4. Be succinct. Don’t rehash all the reasons you are firing the client, or all the good work you have done in the past. What’s the point? Just keep it short and sweet.

    5. Give sufficient notice. Don’t walk out in the middle of a project. Don’t leave the client in a bind by dropping everything. Honor the spirit as well as the specific terms of your contract and provide the best service you can right up to the end. That shows professionalism and a genuine desire to see your client succeed.

    6. Help with a transition. Offer alternative resources. Prepare all the material you need to help the client hand off the work to another resource. Acknowledge your contribution by offering to pass on what you have done and what you have learned so others who follow don’t have to start from scratch.

    Once you recognize the party’s over, leave gracefully. The professionalism of your exit and how you choose to terminate a client relationship says a lot about you, your firm, and your professionalism, and may make the difference in building your brand reputation or making an enemy with unkind words that may follow you to your next gig.

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  • 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.

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  • 06Jul

    The Gates of Hell by Auguste RodinOne of the biggest challenges of working with clients is helping them achieve their objectives without investing too much of your ego in the process. Over the years I have worked with clients of all shapes and sizes, both as a consultant and as part of an agency team. Public relations and marketing communications services need to fall somewhere short of “the customer is always right”; perhaps it’s safer to say “the customer is never completely wrong.”

    While there are some who argue that to be a successful executive, you need to have psychopathic tendencies, I do know that successful senior managers have very healthy egos, don’t often take criticism well, and are very wedded to their own ideas. I can’t recall how many times I have had a client come to me with a project already mapped out in his or her head, complete with impossible targets and unrealistic deadlines and the mandate, “Make it so!” Your job is to assess the situation and determine if you can pull the rabbit out of the hat, or reset the scope and expectations of the project so you can pull off a lesser miracle, make the client happy and help him or her achieve his goals, and still look like a hero.

    Of course, agency executives and consultants have egos too. I have been in a number of meetings where the senior executive on the account clashes with the client in a battle of wills over who is right and who has the best approach or idea. I have worked with consultants with the same challenge. Their argument is “you are paying me all this money for my opinion, why won’t you listen to me?” (Of course, one of the reasons consultants become consultants is that they don’t play well with others, especially authority figures, so consulting is preferable to unemployment. But I digress.)

    Trying to win an argument with your client may be good for your ego but it’s bad for business.

    As with most interpersonal relations, you need to learn how to pick you battles. There are so many small things that you can let go, despite the fact it may hurt your professional pride, if it doesn’t’ compromise your professional integrity. Let’s look at some specifics.

    Writing has become a battleground where I am prepared to give ground on a regular basis. One of the biggest complaints within the PR community is that the latest crop of PR professionals are such atrocious writers (note: the age group varies depending on how long you have been in the profession). You can argue about grammar, usage, the use of the serial comma, and whether AP Style is dead. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you made your point, and there are no glaring spelling or grammatical errors. A common problem I see among PR professionals is writing and rewriting a press release or other copy, not because it’s wrong but because the text needs polishing or doesn’t conform to house style. While this may chew up a lot of billable time, in many cases it’s wasted effort. Early in my career, I had a client who referred to this as the “happy/glad” syndrome; there are different ways to express the same idea, so at the end of the day what does it matter? In cases where a client has an emotional commitment to the way a press release or article is written, there is no reason to argue.

    Then there are the ethical issues. I have had clients ask, no tell me to lie to a reporter. Of course, I refused. There also have been instances when a client has lied to me and I, in turn, lied to a reporter. In such cases, it’s my reputation at stake and I will resign the client in a heartbeat. As I explain to all my clients, my integrity with journalists is my bread and butter, despite the fact they write the checks, so if they ask me to do something unscrupulous or dishonest, it’s a deal-breaker.

    And then there’s everything in between. The smart PR professional doesn’t let his ego get in the way of his judgment. If you adopt that as a cardinal rule, you can navigate most client situations to a happy outcome for all, even if they don’t do things your way. Maintain your professionalism and always give your best counsel, but be prepared to compromise when the need arises. The best public relations professionals are excellent diplomats, and in the end, you have to remember that you are just the messenger. What’s the point in getting shot?

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  • 12Apr

    Flying Solo Caution SignPublic relations is a creative job. You have to be able to look at a client’s product or service, assess market needs and news angles, and find a way to build market awareness with his target audience. It’s not always an easy task and it requires innovative thinking, solid storytelling – creativity! Good PR and marketing also require solid teamwork. You need to be able to engage with your clients to agree on market objectives, key messages, market differentiators, everything. You need to work together with senior decision-makers to agree on strategy, execution, deliverables, and ways to measure success.

    Creativity and teamwork are not good bedfellows.

    I have the privilege or working with some very smart and dedicated people. And that means we have some very heated discussions on how to do things to achieve an end result, right or wrong. One of the challenges in being smart and creative is that you can see multiple ways to solve a problem or achieve an objective. However, your ideas may not jibe with someone who is equally intelligent and brings a different perspective. So good PR also requires good diplomacy and a willingness to compromise, even when you are convinced you are right. There is little room for ego if you run a service business.

    So I was interested to spot a blog post by Kimberley Weisul on BNET today, “Why Smart People Make Lousy Teams.” Citing a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College, the findings demonstrate that smart people don’t necessarily play well with others. For example:

    Intelligence does not affect team performance. There is no connection between smarts and teamwork, so throwing smart people at a team-driven problem isn’t going to help you.

    EQ is more important than IQ. Good communications, good coordination, and stronger emotional intelligence (EQ) tend to promote good teamwork. If you have people who are good at reading and responding to other’s emotional needs, your team will deliver better performance. Even a single contributor with a high EQ can make a big difference.

    Strong personalities hurt team performance. Groups where a single strong personality or decision-maker dominates the conversation don’t do as well as groups where team members take turns. Strong leaders are less effective in group decision-making.

    According to the research, the easiest way to create more emotionally intelligent teams is to include women:

    Women are often perceived to be more socially sensitive, and more communally-minded, than men. To the extent that’s true, it’s easy to see how it could be helpful in a team context. And in the experiments, the researchers found that teams that included women were more socially-sensitive, and better performing, than then all-male teams. (No word on the performance of all-female teams. I’ve reached out to the researchers about that, and will update if I hear back.)

    Without revising any additional scientific research, I think I can safely say that the male ego plays a role here. Working with male CEOs and executives, particularly at start-up companies, has taught me that even though they are paying for your counsel and expertise, you have to tread lightly and be judicious with your opinion. (I find women executives are, indeed, more open to new ideas. I also think that’s why women gravitate to public relations.) To be a successful CEO requires a certain amount of hutzpah, and the conviction to stand your ground when everyone else tells you that you are wrong. Sometimes such egos get in the way of success and sometimes they fuel that success; it depends on the situation. But whenever you are dealing with a strong, charismatic leader, the concept of teamwork changes dramatically and the work becomes more of a parade than a huddle. If you can’t follow the leader, then you should bow out.

    And that’s where a different kind of creativity comes into play. You need to find new ways to deliver through compromise. No matter how good your approach or ideas, if the client says no, then you have to achieve the goal within whatever restrictions you have to deal with. Being in a service business means you have to fulfill the wishes of the client as well as the requirements of the project. And when the two seem at odds, it’s time to set aside you IQ, crank up your EQ, and deliver the goods.

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