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    Monday, November 24, 2008

    I'll let you into a secret, I don't believe in PR

    I’ll let you into a secret; I don’t believe in PR
    It used to infuriate me to hear that from a client…I was wrong to feel that way, but we’ll get to that later.
    Typical scenario: I have been retained to provide PR services by the country manager, who reports to a corporate manager in the head office; that’s the person who doesn’t believe in PR.
    The country manager has fought for the right to do some reputation building and promote the company’s services locally, as the competitors are doing. The corporate manager agrees because it’s important to the country manager, but he’s not on board, far from it. He wants to know exactly how many sales leads have been generated by each announcement to the press. He wants to find out which customers chose the company brand specifically because of media coverage and then he wants to measure that against the cost of advertising to find out if he could have got more bang for his buck elsewhere.
    As I said, I used to tire of pointing out that reputation building doesn’t work that way…in life or in business!
    Take a store scenario. The store manager knows the importance of customer service. She understands that if her employees are pleasant, courteous and helpful to the customers they will come back. Maybe their friends will come. Perhaps the word will pass around that it’s a great place to shop and people will come from afar. What she doesn’t do is ask each customer ‘how much will you spend because I just smiled at you and told you to have a really great day? Exactly how much was that smile worth to me?’
    The message is the same one PR professionals have been repeating since the dawn of, well PR: a positive reputation is enormously valuable to business. You cannot measure it activity by activity but you absolutely will see the results develop over time.
    That’s why I used to get irritated when I found myself up against someone who, in my mind, was almost actively willing PR to fail to prove their convictions (and fail it will, if you disregard the advice you are paying to receive).
    However, more recently (and not before time) I started to view this category of client in a different way. I began to ask myself why they were so anti-PR. Up until then I had focused purely on how inconvenient it was for me to have to deal, without really asking myself why I had found myself in this situation in the first place. Maybe there was something lacking in MY approach!
    The logical answer is they have a misconception of the principles of PR. Perhaps they bundle it with advertising and measure it with the same yardstick, leading to unrealistic expectations. Perhaps they have previously had a bad experience with a PR provider that really didn’t deliver any value and that is what they’ve come to expect. Perhaps they simply don’t know what to expect (the workings of PR are still one of the business world’s best kept secrets, I find. Just tell someone at a party that you are a PR consultant and watch their eyes go blank as they decide whether it’s appropriate to admit that they don’t know what on earth that entails. Or better still, ask them what they think it entails, the responses can be incredibly entertaining, ranging from ‘people paid to lie for politicians’ to ‘professional groupies’, or ‘is that even a real job? ’)
    Anyway, the upshot is, if your client is, shall we say, reluctant, they are probably misinformed and YOU have some work to do in addressing this issue BEFORE embarking on a campaign, them in tow scraping their heels and resisting all the way.
    My suggestion would be to sit down with them and talk through what you are planning to do for them. Maybe they’ll be open to a conference room meeting where you can support your conversation with presentation slides. Or maybe it’s more appropriate to invite them to a casual ‘getting to know you better’ lunch. But I promise you, the time and money you invest here will pay dividends in the long run on both sides, in terms of campaign success and relationship longevity. Here are some pointers that work for me:
    • Clarify the purpose of PR, and don’t just tell them what it is, go to the trouble of preparing examples of successful PR campaigns (both your own and also companies you admire that obviously have the PR machine running smoothly for them)
    • Outline clearly what you intend to do for them. I mean really discuss the potential knock on effects of the PR activities you have lined up on a case by case basis; this is often only briefly touched upon at pitch stage and can easily get lost among the mass of logistical information that is bandied about in the beginning
    • Give a clear timeline for results; if a client is expecting to see 20 new leads arise from one press release, encourage them to take a long term view at measuring the increase in customer interest over six months, or even better a year
    • Also demonstrate that you have a long term plan and that you are prepared for the next phase once the first objectives have been achieved in terms of reputation shaping. Show them that you are travelling with them and you know the course; that you are not simply winging it from activity to activity
    • Show them case study testimonials of successful similar campaigns and offer to put them in contact with clients willing to chat with them about their experiences
    • Plan to have a review discussion with them periodically, to bring to light any positive developments that can be linked to PR and to give them the confidence that you are still in control and steering their campaign.
    Of course it’s easier to retain a client who already loves PR and just jump right in to doing what you do best, but take it from me, there is little more rewarding in the PR business than changing someone’s perception through delivering over and above what they ever expected.