I love my job. But like everyone, I have those moments of banging my head on a desk wishing that clients understood some of the challenges in doing my job well and keeping them happy.
This post is not a rage against clients (see above, I love what I do!) but tips on how everyone can get the best out of working relationships. As I thought about things that I wish clients knew, I decided to reach out to a group of smart, seasoned pros for their answers to this question.
Kris Vruno Huson: 1) PR starts internally. If those closest to your brand don’t love it, then you will have a hard time with the public loving it, as eventually they will find out. Companies need to hire brand champions and empower them to talk about their affinity. 2) It’s not about B2C, B2B it’s H2H – human to human. At the end of the day a brand has to inspire people.
Diane K. Rose, DKR Communications: I’m always frustrated when clients don’t see the need to invest the time and resources required to develop a set of consistent messages that their companies and their PR/marketing teams will use as a foundation for speaking to media and other external constituencies (influencers, current/potential customers, investors, etc.), for their employees who will use when talking to external constituencies, for integrating into website language, etc. Defining a brand presence and taking industry leadership is based, in part, on consistency in messaging and sharing stories that set an organization apart from its competitors.
Makasha Dorsey, Creative Director at Dorsey Group: I wish that clients knew how important internal practices are in relation to external perception. You can’t build a brand on a good external image alone. Your internal communications flow, product quality, hiring and training processes greatly impacts your ability to sell or resell a product or service.
Kim Alexander, Swoozie Kimmel Public Relations Strategies: Great PR cannot solve operational problems. In fact, a great PR strategy can hurt your business if it is not equipped to handle growth, if your service sucks or if your employees are not happy!
Niall Gillett It is critical that clients understand the value of their Reputation and how it relates to success in Public Relations. I always say, “If the goal of PR is Influence, the Power of PR is Reputation.”
Carrie Zukoski, Open Road Communications: That having a plan, even if it’s “just” an outline, is important.
Mary Beth Huffman, Impact Marketing and Public Relations: I wish clients understood that you must have a long-term strategy no matter what tactics or tools we use.
Kami Huyse, Founder, Zoetica Media: That you must have measurable objectives up front and that they need to connect with business objectives, not just reach or likes. The objectives are what you want people to DO.
Aamaal Y. Abdul-Malik, THESAURI PR: I wish clients understood that poor strategy and organization will cause your brand to fail; no matter how much money you throw at it. If you do not have an engaging brand story, relatable messaging, quality imagery, and products that speak to your target audiences’ needs or lifestyles, no amount of PR is going to increase your brand recognition and bottom line. You must first know who you are, what you stand for, what you want to achieve, and commit to sticking to what you know or do better than anyone else.
Betsy Decillis, BAD Consulting – I really wish (most) clients got that they don’t understand everything about Facebook. Every potential client call I have starts with, “Well, I get Facebook, so…” And by the end of the call, they realize there’s a whole new Facebook world they never knew about.
Rody Bajo, Whisper Media: I wish they knew that “user experience” across multiple platforms and channels is more important than a pretty website.
Ebony Grimsley, Above Promotions: If you are a brand that sells products have a way for people to purchase or check out your products online. Even if I get a media outlet to glance at your brand, if there is nothing there online, a feature or mention may not happen. I am blown away by upset business owners that sell products with no e-commerce solutions in place. Even if Oprah wanted to feature you, she isn’t going to tell her fans to email you for an order!
Shelley Senai , Flypaper PR: The founder of Onboardly tweeted this great quote, which I thing sums up PR nicely – and is something I wish my clients truly understood. “PR isn’t a quick fix, it’s not a Band-Aid, it’s not a painkiller. PR is a vitamin.”
Holly Donato, Donato Communications: Media relations is like planting a garden…not turning on a light switch.
Aamaal Y. Abdul-Malik, THESAURAI PR I wish clients understood that media placement in Tier 1 media isn’t a “Pitch, and they will cover” type of situation. Media relations requires strategic, over-time media coverage across various levels of audience engagement and persistence, persistence, persistence.
Tonita Perry, APR, Eaddy Perry & AssociatesI wish clients knew that quality trumps quantity when it comes to media relations. Understanding that if you have quality stories that are truly representative of your brand, from two respected media outlets with wonderful feedback and return from core publics, is worth more than mentions from 10K media outlets that your publics don’t even know exist. The whole point is to manage the relationships for which your success or failure depends and if you are not reaching those publics with quality media relations then it is moot.
April Hanley Lynch, Lynchpin Strategic Communications: I wish clients knew that we need to know as much as we can, the good, the bad and the ugly! My best clients are the ones that share their success measures so that we are all working towards the same goal.
Mary Deming Barber, The Barber Group: I wish clients understood this is a partnership. We can’t do what we do without their buy-in, support and participation. While we learn their business pretty quickly, when there are interviews and they are the spokesperson, we expect them to be available. When we need to do a check-in to see where we are against goals, we expect them to be available.
Cheryl Tessier, APR, Finesse PR, LLC: Clients need to know that it is imperative to bring in PR at the front-end of planning, strategy, etc., rather than as a “next step” or, heaven forbid, an after thought/tactic.
And, that planning for (inevitable) crises is also imperative. Just because you don’t plan for crises doesn’t mean they can’t and won’t happen.
Alison Kenney, KPR Communications -Hiring a PR pro doesn’t mean you’re done. You need to keep communication channels open; your PR program is only as good as the resources you give to it. One other thing that I haven’t seen here, but that I believe to be true: PR can be a very effective, playing-field-leveling tactic and can be more effective than some more costly marketing tools. That being said doesn’t mean that it’s cheap!
I wish clients knew that it is about communication and collaboration. As PR pros we know our jobs but we cannot succeed without two-way communication and a commitment to work as a partner. You are the true secret sauce that brings it all together.
How about you, what would you add?
I don’t know when it happened but somewhere in the past several years, we raised the white flag of defeat. Perhaps we were pushed to the edge by too many long hours and too few vacations. Maybe it was the “always on” social media culture that finally taxed our remaining resources. Whatever the cause, we are here standing on the big fact X of apathetic acceptance.
We used to try. We had a fire in our belly that propelled us to not just be good but great. We wanted to create better products and services. We were motivated, delighted even to over deliver on expectations. We aimed high and then aimed higher. Now we’ll throw a song about a giant phallus in an ad…with children! We have automated surveys that no one will bother to follow up on. We throw out 140 character sound bites and don’t bother to listen to what people are really saying. We put cheaper parts in cars just to get them out and deal with the fallout later.
The new definition of customer service is having a warm body (or when you can a robot) man a phone, counter, cash register or table. No personality or empathy required, just show up and pretend to listen.
As a society we are moving through life like war weary drones, who simply strive for “done” rather than “well done.”
Our culture has sunk to a happy level of mediocrity where volume and real time take precedence over innovation and excellence. “Done is better than perfection,” has become the national mantra that seems to excuse us from the real work of prioritizing, cutting back and spending time on the things that deserve the quest for perfection.
With a smartphone in our hand, we have access to a wealth of data, metrics and information. Who needs professionals and their expertise when we can simply get it done, faster and cheaper? Good relationships and quality coverage get dismissed for high volumes of so-so traffic that only look good in a spreadsheet of meaningless numbers. Why pay more for well-written copy by trained communicators who understand your audience when you can get anything for $5 bucks or better yet just buy a book and do it yourself?
I don’t know about you but I want to fly in planes built by engineers and companies that not only want to get it done but rock it out. I want my nieces and nephews to play on playground equipment by people who have a passion for child safety and excellence. And I want to work for companies who don’t only want me to show up but show out and give me the breadth and space to not just get it done but get it well done. How about you?
I am convinced that if aliens invaded the earth, they would eat the communicators first. This belief has been shaped by years of watching PR and Marketing functions get cut when organizations are looking to save money. I watched the slash and re-staff cycle throughout my career and as an independent have seen the same logic applied when companies slash budgets or eliminate outsourced partners entirely.
So if the zombies show up, forgive me if I leap over your head to scramble to safety.
Often, when companies are faced with a need to trim their expenses, they view PR and Marketing as the fat of the company. In the heat of the battle, all of the hard work done by these communication pros is reduced to press releases and pretty brochures. Ugh. I could successfully argue that this is a big mistake. I could even provide examples of how cutting these departments actually hurt the bottom line, but today I want to focus on a different perspective. We get treated like the fat that can be trimmed away because we hide our true value under muumuus. It’s time we wear form fitting clothes that show organizations that we’re not fat, but muscle.
Communication pros often do a rotten job of communicating our true value. We serve others beautifully crafting messages, positioning brands and rising to the challenge in the face of crisis. Yet, we are quiet about what we do and how it ties into the priorities of the C-suite.
At the heart of all PR and Marketing tactics is strategy. While others may focus on tactics and output, we know that those things are secondary to a solid strategic plan. To develop this strategy, we have to know the business, understand the big picture vision, know the market, be ahead of industry shifts and know the competition. We do all this but we don’t articulate it and worse we fail to fight for our seat at the executive table where our voices can be heard.
As a result, executives see us as those with creative intelligence but may miss or devalue our broader insight and it’s our fault.
It pains me to admit it but I have made this mistake. A client wants to cut their budget (code for we don’t get why we’re paying you) or is questioning what PR/Marketing is really doing for them. All of your metrics and charts and case studies dissolve into nothingness when you have failed to make it clear not only what you do but how you do it and how that integrates into what the company cares about. Ouch.
As communicators we must lean in and take our seat at the strategy table. Have the business discussions and make sure that you are aligning what you do with what matters to the company (Hint: It’s money – making it, saving it- but it is always money). More importantly learn to talk about it in a way that matters to those who are listening.
Yes, there will always be clients/employers who simply do not get what we do but we can do our part to make sure that we do not get eaten first.
I want to hear from you, how do you communicate your value to clients/employers? What can we do better?
Karen Swim has not received any gifts yet