Archive | July, 2008

The Agency Client Service Needs Hierarchy

23 Jul

There is a lot to learn when you join an communications agency.  The hardest part isn’t the skills.  Competent writing can be taught. So can media relations.  You can learn to navigate the web and how to mine the opportunities in social media.

The hardest thing to learn is client service.  Simply “doing the work” is just the bottom of what we might call the Client Service Hierarchy of Needs (with many apologies to Maslow).  It looks something like this:

Level 1: “Your Order, Sir.” — The client requests work. You deliver the work.

Level 2: “Fries with that?” — The client requests work.  You deliver that work…and offer a little something extra.

From here, things get challenging. Agency client service leaps up a level when you’re able to understand and respond to the daily challenges of being the client.

Level 3: “Let me make this easier for you.”  What makes it easier? Sometimes, it’s delivering the report with the kind of memo that the client can forward to her team.  Or it’s the timely recap because you know he’ll need it for his boss’ weekly base touch.  Or making the extra heads-up call on a key point rather than just assuming they’ll read the whole email.

Level 4: “It’s like you’re part of the team.” You solve enough problems, they’ll start to see you as an extension of their internal team.

Let’s call this next one the top of the pyramid…

Level 5: “Here’s what else we could together.” At this level, you’ve created enough separation to provide both an insiders knowledge and an outsiders insight.  You’ve built up enough credibility to become not a team member but a partner in the client’s success.

In my view, getting to Level 3 is the key to success in agency client service. It’s the attitude that you’ll do whatever it takes not just to solve client problems but to make it easier for them to be successful in the process. This is a surprisingly difficult leap for many people. You’d think good work can stand on its own.  But good work can only take you so far if you can’t communicate that work into the organization, and smooth its path to action, and relate the success it achieves … day to day to day.

Community Managers — the New Face of PR?

17 Jul

Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb posted a compelling article on a new marketing/communications job title:  “Community Manager.” Kirkpatrick offers this definition:

A community manager is someone who communicates with a company’s users/customers, development team and executives and other stake holders in order to clarify and amplify the work of all parties. They probably provide customer service, highlight best use-cases of a product, make first contact in some potential business partnerships and increase the public visibility of the company they work for.

The article is focused on startups, but is worth a read by anyone at organizations large and small thinking about how they will manage communications and amplify their marketing efforts among vitally important communities, increase their engagement with these communities and take advantage of key online social networks.

Kirkpatrick asks the question of whether this is the “the new PR.” My answer is that it has to be.  It’s not the only PR, certainly.  But those who understand public relations in the tradition of folks like Arthur Page rather than that of, say, Scott McClellan, realize that it PR is the one communications discipline founded in the idea of an organization listening, responding, sharing and collaborating with the communities that make up its public.

I have a strong feeling that this role will grow and evolve quickly — both in corporate communications and marketing.  Infusing these disciplines with the responsibility for community management should make them better informed, more insightful and more powerful advocates both for their organizations — and within their organization on behalf of the communities they serve.

Communications on Cruise Control

1 Jul

I was talking with a leader at a local community organization. She pointed out that while they produce newsletters, send emails and issue glossy quarterly magazines every year, “nobody reads what we send them.” And she wasn’t the first one to say it.

It’s a common affliction — communications on ‘cruise control’.  Marketers and public relations churning out newsletters, magazines, brochures, whitepapers, news releases and blog posts because … well … because they always have … or the competitors are … or that’s what the people there know how to do … whether or not anyone is paying attention.  Why? Well, it’s easy.  Budgets are predictable.  You just keep heading down the road…

…until you find out that your customers and constituents are on another road entirely. The challenge today is that we’re in a period of transition.  “They” are not relying on print media.  Or social media.  Or websites.  Or blogs. Or text messages.  Or newsletters. Or webinars. Or podcasts.  Or RSS.

They are relying on all of it.

There are too many choices for communicators and too many choices for audiences.  They expect you to deliver what they want, but you can’t deliver everything.

What to do? Companies should audit their communications regularly — find out what they are communicating, how they’re doing it and if it’s working. As you do this, I’d recommend thinking about some long term trends and how they apply to your company:

  • Print is special.  Don’t waste it. Newspapers are in trouble, but many magazines are thriving.  More and more, it seems, there’s a backlash against getting junk in print. For most regular communcations, it’s wasteful and time consuming.  Unless it has a purpose, a value, a depth or even beauty that can’t be reproduced any other way.
  • Choice is here to stay. Offering email alerts and RSS feeds is easy and inexpensive.  So is setting up an RSS feed for your news feed. Does your audience know this? Then they’ll expect it.
  • “Opt-in” beats “Opt-out”. With multiple communications channels into every customer and contact, there is a rising need to manage multi-channel permissions. Even for current customers — is a mailing appropriate? Email? What about a text message?  There are those out there who believe that any uninvited contact — even from a current vendor — is a breach of privacy. While most are not so extreme, isn’t it better to communicate with someone who asks for your message, that to be ignored by someone who didn’t?

Have you done a communications audit lately?  What would you add to this list?

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