Friday, December 18, 2009

The Music Is All Around Us

For those of you who have seen the 2007 movie August Rush, you learned that "the music is all around us, you just have to listen." Well, life lessons (personal and professional) are all around us as well, you just have to pay attention.

As we wind down the year in celebration of the holidays, I've always found it a wonderful time to take stock of what we do and who we are both personally and professionally. So if you determine that client service excellence is a priority for you next year, then imagine what it will take to improve. Other than getting a tip or two from this blog, and other client service related sources throughout the year, keep in mind that the lessons are everywhere - they too are all around us if we listen and make the connections.

John Dewey once stated, "Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only the particular thing he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and is often much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned."

This will be my last post for this year, as I take a break and enjoy the holiday season. So happy holidays and thank you for reading and offering your comments here at CSI. May next year bring you happiness, prosperity, and lots of collateral learning!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Measurement Problem Or Just Poor Communication?

As we prepare for the new year, it may be a good time to think about the importance of demonstrating value to our clients. To do so effectively, we have to agree on what we're measuring. While we as PR professionals can't always isolate or align a specific strategy to a company's business results, we can do a better job of working with our clients to devise measures specific to the relationship. Ambiguity in this area is, more often than not, a function of poor communication rather than an inability to measure results. Here are just a few examples of how communication can break down:

• Agency people who are trying to win a new piece of business will promise prospective clients the moon, the stars, you name it - whatever it takes to get them to agree to the xx thousand dollar a month retainer.
• Some agency people loathe to talk about money, let alone be pinned down to provide specifics regarding what a client can expect for a return on investment. They're so happy just to win the business that talks of finances and accountability somehow compromise the moment.
• Long ago, the agency world weakened the PR brand by suggesting that one can measure the value of media coverage based on a multiple of ad equivalencies. Three times the ad rate, five times the ad rate - just pick a number. It was not only arbitrary, but also defined PR value only in terms of media relations and editorial coverage. All other aspects of the discipline were left out in the cold. (Thanks for that!)
• Clients wanted to know what they were getting for their money, but were inconsistent about what they asked for. For example, does $5,000 per month get me x number of press releases or does $5,000 per month get me coverage in the New York Times, etc.? What CAN you tell me?
• Clients don't always understand what PR does, and we haven't exactly done a stellar job clarifying the matter. If your client isn't sure what PR is really supposed to do, then you certainly can't expect them to understand how it can be measured.
• Clients and PR people don't sit down and have honest talks about what motivates an organization's PR effort, the aspects of PR they seek to employ, or their definition of success and how to measure it.

Before you start crunching the numbers and breaking out the excel spreadsheets, talk to your clients first. Really talk. Find out what it is they'd like to achieve through public relations. Outline the objectives, agree on the strategies, and define the measurement tools. Understand what success looks like to your clients and be clear about what you can do to help them realize that success.

That's the measure of a true PR professional.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Giving More Than You're Getting?

Ask most employees if they're giving more to their organizations than they are getting in return, and they'll proudly say, "Of course. I'm working 80 hour weeks and responsible for adding millions of dollars of extra top-line revenue to my firm." They hear the question in terms of justifying the company's investment in them and then unabashedly, if not defensively, touting their worth. But as I learned recently, there's another way to look at this question.

Pepperdine University
professor Vance Caesar told us the story of when he was once asked the same question earlier in his career and how he provided an answer similar to what I described above. Instead of Vance's supervisor beaming with appreciation, he was furious at his response. Vance was at a loss, wondering what he said that was so wrong. Just before the weekend, his supervisor posed the question again. Vance offered the same reply and received an even more enraged reaction. The supervisor told Vance if he didn't have a better answer by Monday morning, then he should be prepared to clean out his desk.

Totally perplexed, and extremely worried about Monday's meeting, he called one of his mentors and asked why his answer was so wrong. His mentor replied, that it was highly unlikely that Vance was giving more than he was getting. As Vance began to defend his position, the mentor stopped him and asked, " Are you developing professionally? Are you building relationships that can help you grow? etc, etc... He continued to ask questions that defined all the currencies besides salary and bonus that Vance was receiving because of his work at the firm. Vance quickly realized he was getting much more than he was giving.

On Monday morning, Vance met with his supervisor who was waiting, with Vance's resignation letter in hand. When he asked the question for a third time, Vance answered, "No, I'm getting more than I'm giving." "Why?," replied the supervisor. Vance then explained all of the ways he benefits from being an employee. Pleased with Vance's answer, the supervisor explained that Vance was being groomed for a leadership position in the company and that when employees believe they are giving more than they are getting, the seeds of resentment are planted and begin to grow. He said he would keep the resignation letter in his desk drawer, and that if Vance ever felt he was giving more than he was getting, he would ask Vance to sign the letter and leave the company.

Whether it's an employee relationship or a client relationship, both sides should be getting more than they are giving. The key is making sure everyone is aware of all the currencies being exchanged. Imagine if your client understood that (s)he was getting more than giving, and that you were realizing that dynamic as well. Why would such an agency/client relationship ever end?

So during this holiday season, with all this talk about it being "better to give than to receive," you should know that investing in the right relationships (giving more), means that everyone receives MUCH more.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Integration Imperative

I had the pleasure of reading Suzanne C. Lowe's book, The Integration Imperative: Erasing Marketing and Business Development Silos - Once and for All - in Professional Service Firms. Before reading it, I was struck by David Maister's endorsement, "An amazing blend of insight and in-depth real world examples. All professional firm marketers and managers should read this book." I figured if David put his name to it, it must be valuable. Needless to say, it really is.

While the title suggests a concept with which most of us would agree, there's a difference between agreeing with it and being able to execute it in your organization. Marketing and business development should serve the organization, not the other way around. And they'll be most effective when their efforts are at a minimum, congruous and at best, synergistic. In many organizations, they are neither. Thus the need for such a book.

As I mentioned in my last post, Lowe has written more than a book that one reads and puts back on the shelf. It's a valuable resource, grounded in extensive research, worthy of constant reference for the professional services firm seeking to maximize its marketing and business development efforts. (By the way, its utility extends to any type organization). Lowe reminds us of the importance of believing and pursuing a mission and vision for our organization that's larger than ourselves. I can't think of a more valuable resource for the professional services firm - particularly during these tough economic times.

It reminds me of a book called The Customer Comes Second by Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters in that the concept is so simple, one wonders what the rest of the book could be about. I was amazed at the extent to which Rosenbluth's firm so consistently and completely delivered on its philosophy. As a result, I kept the book on my desk, constantly referring to it for new ideas and insights. The more I looked at it, the more I discovered. From my perspective, The Integration Imperative achieves the same result.

I'd recommend getting a copy and keeping it close at hand. Mine sits right next to Hal's book.


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