Alchemy of PR; Chemistry matters!

PR for me is not just an art! It is a seamless combination of various disciplines of science that play at various degrees of significance to achieve the end result viz. “good reputation”. Being an Engineer and an MBA with a passion for travel, some of the subjects that have been of interest to me are Math (numbers), Statistics (analysis) and Geography (coverage).  However, the subject that I have always loved working on, has been Chemistry (relation between the client and the consultancy)!

I guess, this is one area that has always been taken for granted and I am sure it is true for many of my fellow PR practitioners!

Over the past 18 odd years, working in the field of marketing, sales, strategy, branding, PR and other communications, managing multiple consultancies, I have realized one thing; it is a people’s sport and Chemistry matters! End of the day, a cordially symbiotic client-consultancy relationship helps teams exceed targets! As with human relationships, in our PR trade, there are good ones as well as bad ones. Mutual efforts, transparent communications and a bit of chemistry are pillars of good relationships. The bad ones, I guess, lack all these and may end up with the client announcing a new pitch process!

Talking just of PR, the needle wouldn’t shift unless both the in-house and consultancy teams show strong ownership, commitment, and participation in the achievement process. For these to be a reality, there has to be a constant dialogue, one that is not only transactional but on a thinking, feeling and action level. Time and again, for me, this has led to great outcomes.

I was at the World Communications Forum, Davos a few days back and had the good fortune of meeting various large consultancy heads as also corporate communication heads from across 38 countries. I was on a panel called “Blind insights”, an innovative format where three corporate communication heads and three consultancy heads were paired to throw challenges at each other, at the end of which the 150 odd audience polled to select the best pair, basis, guess what – The “Chemistry” in their interactions and negotiations!! I and my new friend from an Italian PR consultancy won it. As I recap the whole event, my mind reminisces some of the reasons why Chemistry or lack of it has led to superlative results or explosions when it comes to me (client) and some of the best consultancies that I have been fortunate to have hired to work for my past and present organizations.

My (as a client) expectations from the PR consultancy

As a client, I have first-hand experience to share of what I expect out of a consultancy to deserve my good chemistry. For me, inputs from consultancies during strategy and planning phases have always increased the quality of output, especially due to their expertise on the external climate. Some of our most effective PR campaigns have been an outcome of utilizing combined skills, knowledge and unique specialisms that cut across our in-house and PR agency teams. Compelling story ideas can come out only if the relation is symbiotic and well embedded. While our regular PR partners are mandated to bring on board perspectives from the industry, best practices, critical media contacts and insights on what our competition set is up to, some of my expectations that can take PR outcomes to the next level are as follows;

  • Insight’s and analytics based PR, understand the business levers – “Great” PR ideas with no business benefit are passé!
  • Managing reputation is more than just communicating reputation – Understand our corporate culture, values, become a part of it
  • Be real brand journalists – Good stories could be told only by identifying, researching and developing those stories. Develop content creation and sourcing skills
  • Think outside of the traditional pitch – There is no reason why my PR partners should not be just as comfortable suggesting a flash mob as they are recommending a press conference. Or for that matter use a video news release or create an info graphic to tell the story
  • Own up – It’s no longer about who did what. It is about what was the impact
  • Challenge us – Come up with ideas we cannot think of. Vow us by aiming higher!
  • Be proactive and transparent – If a deadline is going to be missed, inform us. If an important team member is quitting, inform us sooner. If we (clients) needs to know something, it better be told ASAP. When trust deficit sets in, it’s kind of over.
  • Don’t agree on everything – It is OK to say “No” when it’s needed. Being realistic is absolutely necessary!

So as a client, I have tried to articulate what I expect from of my PR consultancy. However, it will be unfair not to ponder on what a PR consultancy might be expecting from a client, of course apart from timely payments!

Honestly, I don’t have even a single day experience of working in a PR consultancy so I shall base my hypothesis on my imagination and dialogues I have had with some of consultancy heads during the course of my professional journey. Or rather, let me articulate what we as clients must ensure to get the maximum value out of the partnership in an energising manner.

  • Define and articulate the goals and objectives – It is imperative to clearly define goals and objectives at the outset. Be it qualitative or quantitative, measures need to be agreed upon and owned jointly. This alignment is a must to avoid disagreements later
  • Be transparent – Unless your consultancy is aware of your business, the financials, strategic business plans, the spokespersons and the vulnerabilities, how can they help build an effective PR plan? Share information on developments in good time so that right PR opportunities are identified proactively.
  • Be one team – Not just on paper but at a feeling level. Stop treating the consultancy folks as “vendors” and see the ownership and inspiration to put forward their best foot for any media blitz soar. I have seen this happen and believe me, it’s that euphoric moment when you say – bring it on! Deadlines stop mattering, idea’s flow and the fear of failure vanishes resulting in amazing PR outcomes.
  • Be responsive – More so towards media opportunities with short notice (as always!). Being accessible for approvals saves a lot of time.
  • Not just ‘”Arms and Legs” – Worst is to treat your consultancy partners as extended arms and legs. I truly believe that if you treat them like arms and legs, they might not get their hearts and brains on the account. What a waste!
  • Critique rather than criticize – Very critical to have a robust feedback process in place so that the goals are on track. Have a rewards and recognition system for achievements and a developmental dialogue for misses. Agreeing on the objectives and measures and then jointly ensuring the achievement is the key.
  • Collaborate, Communicate, Listen and Build relations – Talk, it’s our business. Show respect and empathy. Know your team beyond the tactical and operational reviews. See their other side. Most of the times we fight for the same cause and listening can resolve it. I have learnt so much just by listening to my servicing folks. It’s great to hear the language of collaboration and ownership from your extended team!
  • Teams that celebrate together, win awards – Believe me, it is fun and provides opportunities to informally vent out any pent up niggles!

Our industry is an ever evolving one that has probably not got the due it truly deserves. The times are great, there are technologies that support us, and the need for PR has been realized by more and more organizations. It is now up to us to raise the bar of our deliverables and results. One of the ways it’s possible is through this Chemistry.

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Sujit M Patil, ABC
Sujit is a IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) accredited business communicators and a three time winner of the IABC International Gold Quill award. He has been listed as India’s top ten men in corporate communications by Reputation Today and featured on the PR Week Global Power Book, the definitive guide to PR industry’s most influential operators around the world. From 2018 to 2022, he has been listed every year on Provoke media (erstwhile Holmes Report) Influence 100 research and listing of the world’s most influential in-house marketing and communications professionals. Sujit is a part of the prestigious Arthur W Page Society..

Sujit is a qualified Instrumentation engineer with MBA in marketing and a Diploma in advertising and PR. He is a regular speaker and jury at various national and international bodies such as the World Communication Forum, Davos, AMEC, ICCO, PR Newsweek Asia, Public Affairs Asia, etc. He volunteers as a guest faculty at various B-Schools, is a weekend farmer, loves travelling, understanding cultures and experimenting with new cuisines. He is passionate about Sparrow conservation.

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