PR for me is not just an art or science! It is a seamless combination of various streams of education 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 wish to talk about in this column is good Chemistry (yeah, a good relation between the client and the consultancy)! I guess, this is one area that has always been taken for granted!!
Over the past 20 plus years, working in the field of marketing, sales, strategy, branding, PR, managing multiple consultancies, I have realised one thing; PR and Communications 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 business too, there are “good relations”, “perfect relations” but no scope for “bad relations”! (No offence meant to any consultancies, and no puns intended!). 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.
A few years ago, at the World Communications Forum, Davos, I 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 randomly paired to throw business challenges at each other and figure of communications solutions in a collaborative manner. At the end of the role play on center stage, 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 reminisce our behavior and conversation on stage and juxtapose it with my own real life experiences of being served by various large PR consultancies over the years, I am tempted to submit a set of hypotheses. Essentially, a list of expectations (amongst the client and consultant), if set right at the outset and adhered to, can certainly raise the collective bar of our PR and communication outcomes.
So in part one of this series, let me talk about what I (as a client) expect out of a consultancy to deserve my good chemistry.
- 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! Watch out for the part two of this series for the other side of the story!