Tag Archives: agencies

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.

The PR Agency of the Future

13 May

There’s a friend and former colleague of mine (let’s call him ‘Jon’) who I’ve spoken to  often about the future of the PR agency, back when we were both at a very large PR firm.  His take was this: computers and the Internet have taken away the grunt work of public relations — media kit stuffing, faxing, mailings, field trips to the library.   

What clients want is experienced people you don’t have to train.  They don’t have the budgets or patience for the big agency to be a training ground for young execs — they want top people day-to-day.  I tend to agree. 

The logical result is the network of independents — a diverse, virtual network of experienced independent communications professionals on call and willing to dive in together or separately to meet the clients’ needs.

But Adam Singer’s comment to an earlier post of mine got me thinking about a more radical model.  Adam wonders:

What if at a PR firm, everyone was an influencer in some sort of niche.

I think this is another valuable reason all Marketers and PR people should have a blog.

My first thought was, well, that’s not a PR firm.  My next thought that you’d really be blurring a lot of lines as an agency — between client and agency, personal and professional, honest opinion and taking sides for a fee.

But what if you were to create a network of ‘blogger consultants’ — experts in a range of specific fields — from, say, food marketing, to consumer marketing to high-tech to the utilities industry — who are willing and able to consult with clients on their communications issues?  Would that magic line of credibility be blown if, even in a completely open and transparent way, these bloggers advocated for their clients — from providing listings and links to their press releases to periodically commenting on their news and issues — again, with no pretense or illusions that they aren’t a paying client? Or what if they just blogged about potential story ideas that they’d hope other bloggers and professional news people would pick up — kind of an open pitch?

What could the blogger consultant be able to do this and retain credibility in his or her field?   More importantly, how much value would this be to clients? Is anyone doing this kind of thing already?

I put this out there and openly beg for comment — I’m kind of fascinated at the thought and curious to hear what others think?

Let’s discuss! 

The Monday Morning Scream

7 Apr

There’s nothing that puts a knot in the stomach of a PR guy like waking up to the paper/newsletters/RSSfeeds/other assorted alerts to find that someone important has written a story about your competitor — or your client’s competitor.  Worse yet — your boss or client is the one to tell you about it. Call it the “Monday Morning Scream,” but it’s just as likely to happen on a Wednesday…or a Sunday.

Figuring out the how and why of media stories is a kind of parlor game for PR folks.  I played it a bit early on with the marketing VP at a client of my old agency. When we started, the client was a humble, privately held company in a software niche competing head-to-head with a hot publicly traded company with an expressive CEO, fresh off of a major acquisition that positioned it far beyond its original niche. 

Naturally, the hot, publicly traded company garnered more media. Not only did investor media follow its ups and downs, but sector analysts wrote about it, industry analysts considered it a bellweather and trade magazines considered them a “must call.” 

But, our client exclaimed, our product is better, our service is better and their clients keep dumping them and calling us! 

I would, of course, explain that there are inherent media relations advantages to being a public company, and that this company done a particularly good job of positioning itself as an example of some key IT trends long before we got there.  I’d also point out that the competitor was acutally making news — acquiring companies, integrating new services, giving keynote speeches — and that catching up takes time.  And, at times, I’d even point out that the competitor’s success belied claims that they had an inferior product — if it was inferior, it wasn’t enough so to make a difference to most customers. And over time, we were successful in improving their positioning, to a point. 

But, I would often come back to a couple issues that I think are important, each of which I’ll explore in future blog posts:

  1. As a PR professional, don’t let ego get in the way of the answer: What I’m saying here is that you can’t be defensive… it may well be that you should have been in that Monday Morning Scream story.  Admit it.  Figure out why.  Improve your story.  Then let it go.  Learn something. 
  2. Companies must be their own news media.  In the past, if you missed the big story in print, you’d have to stew and rage and move on.  Today, you don’t.  If you have a corporate blog, you can blog about that competitor’s story.  You can say why you should have been a part of it — why your product is better, how you address the issue from a different point of view.  You’ll come up in searches on their story, and steal a bit of their thunder.
  3. Hiring a PR firm isn’t an outsourcing strategy.  It’s easy to blame the agency for missed media opportunities — I’ve taken plenty of it and even deserved my fair share of blame at times.  But the companies that think that putting primary responsibilty for public relations onto an agency are rarely successful.  Communications must be a core competency and core consideration in every major organizational decision. PR agencies and consultants should add, advise, augment, stretch and challenge their clients, but not replace their participation in communications strategy and execution — from the CEO on down. 
  4. Positioning is the core of every communications challenge.  If you’re positioned right, you’ll be important to a core set of influencers — from your customers to bloggers and communities of interest to trade and local media.  You can work that and build from there. 
  5. Sometimes, something’s just not right.  One Friday, I met the client (and, frankly, the client came to me, too) to say that we needed rethink everything if we were going to get to where they wanted to be.  The next Monday, the client was acquired by that competitor. 

It’s Monday morning … you never know what’s going to happen.


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