Monday, September 27, 2010

MASCL: Communication AND Leadership

I thought I'd bring CSI out of retirement (which I may do from time to time) to make a brief announcement that Seton Hall University's Master of Arts in Strategic Communication & Leadership (MASCL) program launched a new Twitter site over the weekend which you can access @MASCL.  The purpose is to bring together professional communicators and leaders to share content about communication and leadership.

Why should you care?  Well, since graduating from the program and enjoying the privilege today of serving as a MASCL instructor, one of my many "aha" moments is that the more one understands leadership, the more one is equipped to provide valuable counsel to leaders.  It sounds simple and obvious, but it's very true.

So if you're a leader who's interested in being a better communicator, or a professional communicator who wants to learn more about leadership, then @MASCL on Twitter is for you!

Monday, July 12, 2010

CSI Winding Down, But CEO Confidence Is Up!

I started Client Service Insights (CSI) back in 2006 while at Hill & Knowlton and picked it up again independently on Blogger.  I began blogging shortly after attending a client meeting that touched on social media - a subject about which I felt uncomfortably ignorant at the time.  After taking a few months exploring the various platforms and reading posts from other prominent bloggers, I took the plunge and have since tried my best to learn how to engage in the social media space the only way you can - by doing it!

Over the years, I've written more than 500 blogs posts pertaining to client service excellence and related topics.  I interviewed industry leaders including Colleen Barrett, Jonathan Tisch, David Sifry, Richard Edelman, and the list goes on.  I created The Client Service Autospy, shared lessons about client service excellence from the master himself Uncle Rico (from the movie Napoleon Dynamite), and collaborated with Todd Andrlik to raise awareness about how to be a pirate!  I've done a great deal of work with students and professors and have enjoyed every minute of it!

Best of all, I became acquainted with countless professionals and academics whom I never would have "met" if not for social media.  You offered your comments, tweeted about my posts, and generously shared your insights.  I can't thank you all enough!  I only hope you feel I returned the favor from time to time.

That said, I enjoy blogging too much to stop.  So starting soon, I plan to write weekly posts for Vistage International - The World's Leading CEO Organization.  I look forward to writing on topics about strategic communication and leadership on our Vistage Small Business Blog.  I sincerely hope you'll join me and the other bloggers who comprise our team!

In the meantime, we're releasing the results of The Vistage CEO Confidence Index this (Monday) morning, where you'll find plenty of terrific insights from more than 1,600 CEOs of small to medium sized businesses. 

See you all at Vistage Small Business Blog!


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Creating Confidence

Back in July of 2008, I shared Shep Hyken's entertaining story of a Texas cab driver. It's one of my favorite client service related videos of all time, and I invite you to watch it again. The other day, I discovered that Shep Hyken is now following me on Twitter, and it prompted me to look at some of Hyken's work including his book The Cult of the Customer and his many videos on YouTube. Regardless of what kind of client or customer we're talking about, Hyken offers smart, practical advice for any type of business.

If you're not familiar with Shep Hyken, then you're in for a treat. If you are already acquainted with his work, then do what I did - rediscover some terrific content and reap the benefits of his sound advice. For now, follow Shep Hyken on Twitter @Hyken and enjoy this video on the art of "creating confidence!

Thanks for the follow Shep!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Client Service & Team ClustrMaps

Well, it's that time again! Time for my annual ClustrMaps refresh. While it's fun to watch all the red dots accumulate over the course of the year, the refresh helps make the map readable again. Otherwise, if a blog gets any kind of traffic at all and the map is never refreshed, one would be left with a big red blob which wouldn't be much help to anyone. More importantly, however, is the helpful information a blogger receives with this year-to-year snapshot. For example, I've learned that my blog traffic is up 57% over last year with 11,261 visitors representing nearly 130 countries. While these figures pale in comparison to so many other blogs out there, it's still pretty amazing to have that kind of reach by posting content into a laptop and not spending one dime on travel. I know it's not a big deal to those of you who've grown up with this capability, but I can't help marvel at it from time to time, and I certainly never take it for granted.

My heartfelt thanks to those of you who visited CSI over the past year. Starting in the next few days, you'll see a far less populated map, signifying a fresh twelve months ahead. If there's any content you'd like to talk about, I welcome your suggestions! Thanks to ClustrMaps for your outstanding communication and terrific client service. Cheers!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Kids' Table

It pains me to have to write this, but I've noticed a recent spike in posts, articles, etc. about the PR profession written by PR people. Unfortunately, they have not been productive articles; in fact, they've been the extra-whiney kind. Without naming names or linking to the articles, it's been the same fare we've all been served for years - How many different roles we play (appetizer), how under-appreciated and overworked we are (entree), how CEOs just don't understand what we do (dessert), and so on, and so on (and as much Kool-Aid as we can stand to wash it down).

Articles like these are the reason most PR people remain seated at the low, collapsible table eating Mac & Cheese with plastic forks on paper plates. The voices you hear are PR people shouting at the grown-ups table to see if anyone will so much as turn in their direction; since after all, they're interrupting adult conversation.

I have one request: STOP! Stop writing about your insecurities and start writing about creating abundance for our clients. The faster we start engaging in adult dialogue, the more quickly and easily more PR people will get invited to the grown-ups table. Now if you enjoy the kids table, I understand that too, just try to keep the whining and screaming to a minimum.

It's hard to escape the irony that we work in a field where we help shape the reputation of others while doing such an abysmal job of managing our own. Maybe if we start getting better at it, more PR people will finally be in the position to say, "Please pass the salt."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Feeding The Beast

As part of my post on Organic Growth, I provided a systems model that offered a different way to look at growing and building one’s PR business. In this post, I’d like to support that model with a common scenario you may be familiar with.

Consider a typical, successful PR agency start-up. The principals sign their first few clients and treat them like gold. They are often directly engaged in each client’s business and everyone is happy. Word spreads about the new firm that helps attract more clients – even larger clients. The more business that comes in the door, the larger the agency becomes. Getting addicted to winning and growing becomes an understandable outcome. (Of course the addiction is not confined to start-ups, but I digress.)

Eventually the forces of the marketplace take hold, and this relatively new firm will go through a period where their rapid growth begins to wind down. There are no longer as many prospects in the new business pipeline anymore. The response? Redouble new business efforts of course. Principals respond this way because they are wired to believe that:

The greater the new business effort, the more new clients, the more the agency grows.

So principals become obsessed with adding new clients, and because of this, employees learn all too quickly that success in business development is the fastest and easiest way to achieve stardom and claim a more senior leadership role in this growing firm. Unfortunately, with the attention of the principals focused on the next new prospect, the emphasis on existing relationships becomes compromised just enough to result in some client losses. Remember, these clients signed on because they were being treated like gold – silver or bronze may not cut it for most of them for very long.

Now do agencies typically respond to these client losses by examining what may have happened and what they can learn? Not usually. The firm collectively brushes it off by convincing themselves that it’s the client’s loss." “Look at how much new business we’re winning? We know we’re good, so it has to be them.”

Now the agency finds itself in the position where winning new business isn’t just about growing, it’s about maintaining and surviving. Principals quickly become familiar with the concept of “net” growth, or new business growth minus client losses. So now the bar has been raised even higher, and it means the pressure to win more new business just increased. Time to double-down on the agency’s new business effort. You have probably already surmised that this agency is going to struggle, and it will do so for a while unless something changes.

So What’s An Agency To Do?

  1. Think about your firm as a whole system not as a linear growth equation

  2. Make your current clients your top priority

  3. Celebrate organic growth with as much exuberance as a new client win

  4. Recognize and promote your great practitioners, not just your strong business development people

  5. Create a client service culture supported by a sustained initiative that‘s at least as robust as your business development program.

By seeing your agency as a complete system, you can avoid becoming addicted to business development at the expense of serving your client. Feeding the beast is not unlike feeding ourselves – if you do so in excess and without proper exercise, it might make you grow but not typically in the way you want.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Organic Growth

Earlier in the week, I suggested that there are three sources of growth for your public relations firm: 1) New clients 2) Organic Growth 3) Client Retention. In my last post titled: Why Did You Lose A Client?, I offered a blame-free, open approach to exploring why some client relationships go bad. The primary objective of such an exploration is to learn - to learn how to pick clients who are a good agency fit from the start; how to identify signs of eroding trust; and how to provide the level of client service excellence that inspires clients to stay with your firm. Winning new business is important, but if you are just replacing revenues from lost clients or shrinking client workloads, it can make the hamster wheel look inviting.

I've been reading quite a bit of Peter Senge's work lately, particularly about Systems Thinking, which he defines as "seeing interrelationships rather than linear cause-effect chains; and seeing processes of change rather than snapshots." A linear thinker would tend to look at agency revenues/growth as a linear equation:

New Business +Organic Growth+Client Retention = Agency Revenues/Growth

I put "New Business" in bold because most agency leaders regard it as the primary driver of agency growth/revenues which is why business development/prospecting receives so much attention. One can't miss the linear cause and effect; it makes perfect sense. Right?

Using a systems model, I might look at it this way:

Rather than invest so heavily in business development (prospecting) initiatives, I would focus primarily on Client Service Excellence. When one looks at how most PR leaders think about agency growth (linear thinking), they don't see client service as a growth driver - which is why in most agencies it receives such little attention and why a systems model can be so illuminating. The cause and effect of investing in client service is neither as obvious nor as immediate as traditional prospecting. In this diagram, you not only see the relationship, but also you discover its reinforcing nature. Client service excellence will lead to better client retention, more organic growth, a reputation that will attract new clients, and strong revenues and growth that will allow you to reinvest in your client service program...and so it continues.

Since organic growth is arguably the strongest metric you have to measure client service excellence, then think about one change you can make tomorrow. Celebrate the expansion of an existing account with the same exuberance as you do when a new client joins your agency roster. Show your team that organic growth not only matters, but serves as the ultimate compliment to your effectiveness as a firm.

To be clear, I'm also a huge proponent of prospecting as a business development tool - but just imagine if while you were prospecting, you were doing so for an agency which enjoyed a reputation for delivering the world's best client service. For my money, it wouldn't even be a fair fight!


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