PR tips: Getting the best from your Public Relations agency
Many people in business invest a lot of money in hiring a Public Relations agency, but enter into this important arrangement without considering what skills the agency will bring to the party and how best to work with them.
If you are an important client for the agency, they will manage you through the process. But if you are one of many clients... well, you might find it a frustraing experience through misunderstandings about what they can achieve.
Here are some thoughts on the skills good PR agencies bring to the party, and the best ways to work with them.
How do you know if your firm needs a PR agency: is your communications strategy a big fail!? (See the blog below)
Should you work with a Public Relations agency on a project or retained basis? (Read this blog)
Four ways to tell if your communications strategy is a big fail
For many businesses we encounter the big issue, and one that often goes completely unrecognised, is that their communications strategy is failing. This looses them work, reduces lead conversion and ultimately thwarts their growth plans.
The problem starts at the top. Often, there isn't a clearly-communicated distinctive business strategy and this inevitably leads to muddled or uncompelling messages.
Sometimes there is a great strategy, but it is just not being communicated interestingly or consistently externally - and usually not internally either! This is where you need great PR support - not just at a tactical level, but at the top to ensure your firm stands out against all the other firms in its competitive markets.
Here are four tell-tales signs that your communication strategy is failing your firm (and ultimately costing a lot of money).
1 - You are implicitly or explicitly competing on price Examples of this include "big firm quality without the big firm price'" or "London quality without the London price".
Why is this so bad? Firstly, in this example, if you aren't one of the top London firms people know you are cheaper anyway. Where they need reassuring is that you are up to doing the job.
Surely these statements tell them this factually? Yes, but implicitly they say the opposite.
There's no compelling reason why they should choose you other than price (and in their mind you are cheaper because there's a big risk you won't deliver to the same level).
Secondly, are you actually competing against these firms anyway? Probably not! While you would like to, you're probably instead competing against other similar-sized rivals.
What is the compelling reason clients should choose you, compared to other similar rivals (stocked with similarly experts and services, charging similar rates and similar practice areas)?
Instead, your strategy needs to be about communicating what is distinctive and compelling about your firm that new clients will choose you and stick with you, regardless of the price.
2 - Your firm's description prominently has words to the effect "We're in the top 35 firms, have X offices and we trace our heritage back over 110 years...". These sorts of housekeeping mentions (age of the business, number of partners, location of offices, mergers from way back, etc.) are invariably put in when there is nothing else to say.
Having such things appearing prominently on your website and proposals invariably shows that you lack a compelling message... and perhaps also a compelling strategy is lacking too. You've got to grab the interest of clients, prospects and recruits immediately in ways that are compelling to prospects - the firm's age and number of locations aren't going to do that.
A strong vision and compelling value proposition are the starting points to fill this gap, backed up with a strong strategy for communicating them.
3 - When you go into a pitch, you have to spend the first half of the meeting explaining who you are. It's the worst possible start. Your competitors are already ahead. Of course, its not impossible to win some work in these situations...but, like any motor racing driver knows, if you start in pole position you are going to win more races than those who start as back-markers.
If no one knows what you are called and what you do that's distinctive, its a big problem. Time to do something about it with a communication strategy that delivers impact.
4 - Your salespeople and spokespeople each describe the firm in completely different ways. Why do they each describe your firm differently? Because no one knows how to describe it properly!
This one is easy to test! Get your senior people together. Give them each a yellow Post-It note and ask them to, without conferring, write down how they describe the firm when they meet clients, prospects and friends. It will be a revelation!
If they are similar - you are definitely ahead of most of your competitors (and indeed many other businesses too). If all the responses are different, or if many fall foul of the other indicators above, then you have a communications strategy problem!
What should you do if you communications are misfiring?
One way is to tackle it yourself. There's no doubt a "Communication strategy for SMEs" or similar book will have lots of tips.
Of course, great results typically take more than following a checklist. Creativity and know-how are hugely valuable, and with something so important you may want to get expert help with people who are familiar with solving such problems... in other words, a good PR agency!