Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Subcontracting Carries Perils Too

Many sole practitioners and even small agencies occasionally supplement their ongoing retainer client load by subcontracting with other agencies and consultants. While such a move can help bolster the bottom line, especially in tough economic times, it's also fraught with perils -- and not just for the lead agency.

The attractions of subcontracting, both for the lead agency and their subcontractor(s) are obvious: For the agency, taking on additional talent on a project-by-project basis allows the lead agency to broaden their breadth of experience and to overcome any disadvantage from its small size. Likewise, for the partnering consultant or agency, they also get an experience and increased revenue, even when you take into account the fact that a subcontractor almost always lowers their rate.

There are many cases where individual counselors and/or small firms have worked together for years and have cultivated relationships that are fruitful for both. However, what's not mentioned nearly as often is when the inverse happens, and a subcontractor and/or agency partner is penalized as a result of actions taken by their lead partner.

For example, if a client has any kind of issue with the lead agency/partner that leads to a termination of the account, more times than not the subcontractor/partner is also out the door too. There are times when the partner can resurrect the relationship, but just as often as not, the former client will be angered enough by the actions of the lead agency that resurrecting the relationship becomes impossible.

So while it may seem that only the lead partner has any vetting to do before a new partner relationship starts, in reality the subcontracting partner should do vetting as well. Take note of actions done during the sales process, if you're brought in that early, that are red flags. These are often good indicators of issues that will linger even if the account is won. Also, insist that any partner will listen to your views too because often a subcontracting partner is doing the lion's share of the actual tactical work. Given that, it only makes sense that they be willing to take your views into account.

Both sides of any partnership should address any conflicts and/or crises as soon as possible to avoid them from causing irrevocable harm. Also, make sure that both sides agree on philosophy. I can't say this enough. There are so many consultants and firms out there that believe their philosophy is the only way and that's honestly a tough situation to be in from a partner's perspective. In the end, what should really matter are the results, not how you got there.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Seat at the Table Has to Be Earned

Much has been said over the years about the importance of companies giving their PR counsel, be they employees or consultants, a "seat at the table," making them integral partners in decisions that go beyond the communications strategy. Whether or not we've earned that consideration is very much an open question.

It's no secret that the opinion of PR firms is generally not that high in the business world. One of the reasons that's the case, in my opinion, is because many things we do reflects too much marketing and not enough business acumen. This is readily apparent from the beginning of the sales cycle since in many cases the moon is promised to win an account, even though that will only lead to problems later.

I was in a meeting recently when an industry colleague, who was discussing a potential PR plan with a company was asked a question that while not related to PR, was something that the respondent should have known based on the knowledge of the prospect and what they viewed was important. The response to the unexpected question was something along the lines of "we'll study up once we get the account."

I was honestly flabbergasted; this goes back to business communication skills 101. There will certainly be cases where every potential answer won't be known before going into a meeting, but sometimes the way someone responds to a situation like that is as important as the answer itself.

Sadly, the most recent experience wasn't my first. Before going out on my own, I was also at a meeting that involved a senior-level practitioner with more than 30 years where virtually the same exchange occurred. Oddly enough, the account was won in both cases, but I submit just as likely an outcome would have been executives walking out the door. Let's hope fewer agencies and PR consultants take that risk in the future and do their homework in advance.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Is Twitter the latest media relations tool?

In creating one of the most simplistic social-media platforms out there, Twitter seems to have succeeded at catching its share of the buzz factor. Now, some PR and marketing bloggers are going as far as to call it the latest and greatest media-relations platform.

For the uninitiated, Twitter allows you to send short, simple messages to friends and colleagues. It allows you to "follow" people you choose and allows anyone else on the platform to choose whether or not they wish to "follow" you or anyone else. Unlike LinkedIn and other social-media platforms, the relationships don't have to be reciprocal; in other words, you can follow people without them giving you their permission.

For the past few weeks, a number of listservs and trade publications, including Ragan have been asking is Twitter going to become the defacto tool in media relations. The theory is that as more journalists join the network, they'll send short updates describing the stories they're working on and that will support a wide range of pitching opportunities for PR pros who subscribe to their feeds.

Some have said Twitter is destined to replace the conversations that used to take place between journalists and PR pros at the local watering hole. That's theoretically possible, but as someone who was on the journalism side for 10 years, I never really saw that many journalists hit watering holes eager to shoot the breeze with a PR rep.

That said, there are some well-known journalists using Twitter as an interaction platform, although as expected the list is tech-heavy. However, if Twitter really does foster trusted relationships, then it could become one of the most valuable tools a PR pro uses. And you sure can't say the price isn't right!