The public relations profession faces many challenges in these hardscrabble times. Clients are holding tight, cutting their public relations budgets or simply saying goodbye. Competitors swoop in, looking for hints of weakness in a client-agency relationship, sometimes followed by business consulting and marketing firms that promote their tool kits as a means of surviving, if not growing, in the recession. What steps can an agency take to ensure that clients are incredibly pleased with the work being done, the results generated on their behalf and the agency relationship?
Based on results from working through three previous recessions (some better than others!), I’ve come to realize that success in client service and retention requires a manic sense of urgency to deliver short-term results combined with a disciplined approach to creativity and long-range planning. Smart agencies provide clients with ideas that will be generating results six, nine and twelve months into the future. We call this “horizon management.” We want the client to envision us sailing together toward new and beneficial destinations.
Agencies can make this happen with an interactive team process. One approach is to hold regular meetings every Monday to update on all client activities. For long-term impact, use the meeting to brainstorm new ideas for each client on a rotating basis. Chose one client or two as the subjects for the next meeting. Have the team leader or account manager review background information in advance of the session, including client calendars, milestones, known events and activities, conference schedules, editorial calendars and focus editions.
Then, to make it easy for everyone to visualize the flow of activities and critical deadlines, plot your plan on an Excel spreadsheet. List activities in the first column, months in the subsequent columns over the next year or two and put in check marks to note when activities or events are expected to take place. (For a sample spreadsheet, e-mail me.) During the creative session, analyze each opportunity and see what result might be generated to advance the client’s business, marketing or capital plans, or all of the above. Envision media relations, community relations, investor relations, social media activities, trade relations and public affairs opportunities unfolding across time.
Agency teams can brainstorm on the tactical approaches within each area, set priorities and also get creative in looking at what we call “the flip side” — what’s there and, more importantly, what’s not there? The initial road map gives the agency a simple planning document to track, and makes it easy to take detours and add new side trips while still keeping the original destinations in mind as the program unfolds.
With good team attention, the agency has now created a master plan for the year, with a series of new ideas it can present to the client, then implement and keep updating with creative sessions that point to a new horizon. Clients get excited. They see the agency as creative, intuitive and pro-active and worth keeping!
The flip side is waiting for the order or the client call that asks one of the worst questions on earth for an agency: “What have you done for me lately?”
Every firm’s mission should be to do something both lately and long-term, generating results that go beyond the ordinary and expected for every client, building agency reputation and creating relationships that endure to perpetuity (well, maybe not quite that long, but potentially for decades).
By Tom Gable, APR, Fellow PRSA, chief executive officer, Gable PR [in San Diego, which represents clients from startups to Fortune 100 companies] writes and speaks frequently on managing for results, turning CEOs into gurus, trends in public relations, crisis communications and reputation management. He is completing the fifth edition of his popular book on agency and program management, “The PR Client Service Manual.”
Join Gable for his FREE webinar, Choosing the Right Agency for Your Public Relations Needs: Build a Mutually Beneficial Client/Agency Relationship, on Wednesday, February 11, 2009, at 3 p.m. EST!