Industry thoughts, sharing great ideas,
snippets and top tips, by Olivia Lane-Nott
Reading a recent PR Week article (29.06.15) “The top seven mistakes PR companies make with existing clients”, written by Chris Merrington, the author of 'Why do smart people make such stupid mistakes?', it got me thinking, as his points can be applied to any professional services advisor or consultancy.
So, here are "The seven mistakes" and my response:
1. What's special about your agency? You might think you’re different but too often PR agencies look the same to clients. Then you’ll be bought predominantly on price. What’s the real or perceived difference between you and competitors?
Olivia: we’ve said goodbye to the arduous monthly 2 hour client/PR agency meeting where 5 minutes before the meeting, the client says: “What do we update them on this time?”; we're also said goodbye to the retainer, the infrequent conference call, the: “We’ll pitch with our senior team, but you’ll be working with our junior team, who are back at the office”. When you instruct us, you get us, and you get us for a regular time, mostly once a week with clients, for a full working day, so that we are an extension of your team. That way we can catch up with your team to fit in with their schedules
2. Not understanding your value is the next mistake. It is easy to become focused on the ‘doing’ rather than the result or impact of our work. Clients want to buy the result of the PR campaign, not the PR campaign. Value is in their eyes, not yours.
Olivia: it’s all about results and output. Even better when you can track back a particular piece of PR or result to an increase in business enquiries, or brand perception. That moment when you open the newspaper, magazine or read online a piece about your clients or their work that you’ve worked really hard on and you think: yes, they’re going to be pleased with that, let’s shout it from the rooftops
3. As a PR agency making a fair profit is a fundamental business goal. Revenue growth without profit growth is nuts. Don’t be too focused on the topline revenue rather than on the right balance between revenue and bottom-line profitability.
Olivia: I completely agree!
4. Under-pricing is a massive and costly mistake. By under-pricing we set a precedent with that client going forward and it will be hard to increase our price with that same client for subsequent work. Price is the number one factor to influence profitability. Price is A factor; it is rarely THE factor.
Olivia: this is true; you often don’t get selected purely on price. People instruct people. Human chemistry is key
5. Over-dependence can be costly. If a client represents more than 15 per cent of your business there is a danger that you avoid increasing your prices, avoid challenging the client and avoid presenting standout work. Instead we play safe, avoiding 'rocking the boat'. Just because you’ve had a client for 10 years, it is not a guarantee of the future. I have seen too many agencies destroyed or decimated by the loss of one or two major clients. Hope is not a strategy.
Olivia: very true, especially when you are building your business and client base, and you realise your exposure if you only have one or two clients. But it’s about being fleet of foot; keeping them front of mind for everything; thinking that right behind you there’s another agency who wants your client and you have to work hard to keep yourself the number one choice, and most importantly, as fresh as the moment you first pitched
6. Poor briefs are costly to PR agencies. What makes a poor brief? A verbal or poorly thought through brief is dangerous. It’s your responsibility to extract a great brief. A verbal brief isn't worth the paper it's not written on.
Olivia: true – whilst you’re only as good as what your client does or tells you, you also are only as good as what you extract from them. But even within one client, there are many different people and personalities, and adapting to each of those styles is key to getting the best briefs. Often verbal briefs are the first stage – our clients are busy and time pressed. Common sense has to prevail and going back with an initial outline shows you’ve put thought into it, and often they’re more willing to further expand
7. Scope creep and over-servicing drain profits. Clients will ask 'could you just...' and expect that extra work to be covered by the original budget or fee. Scope creep is like a disease. It won't get better unless it is treated. It simply gets worse. Your ability to tackle scope creep is linked to your confidence, your differentiation, your pricing, understanding your value, the brief...
Olivia: having worked client side for many years with lots of different agencies, big and small, marketing & design to PR & data; by far the best fee structure is to do away with a monthly retainer, and charge an hourly or day rate, keeping timesheets. It’s transparent and fair on both sides. Often clients go down this route but with a monthly time/fee cap. That way, we aren’t going over their budget, and we are motivated to doing a superb job, which is rightly rewarded. And whilst we offer retainers, timesheets are still kept, to justify and give visibility of what we are providing
And I would add one more:
8. “We never hear from them”. Something I sadly hear all too often. PR agencies are overstretched or accounts have too many people assigned to them, so responsibility for keeping the client informed is overlooked and the motivation to service them diminishes. My career started agency side, and then I went in-house as the client, then back out to form my own consultancy. You’re being instructed by your clients to provide a service; think of them as your employers, think like them, communicate, anticipate their needs, and keep raising the bar
For Chris’ original PR Week article, please click here.
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