As I write this article, lectures across the world are being taught to the next generation of PR professionals about the importance of open, transparent, and honest communications.
In my humble opinion, our industry has done a lousy job practicing what we preach in this regard, which doesn't bode well for setting a proper example for those who represent the future of our industry or as a catalyst for any positive improvements to its reputation.
It all starts with the “sell.” Most, if not all, new business pitches are conducted in a formal setting where an agency will take center stage and make an attempt to strut its stuff. The dog and pony show, as it is called by many in our industry, has come to mean a highly promoted, often over-staged performance, presentation, or event designed to sway or convince opinion. Typically, the term is used in a pejorative sense to connote disdain or distrust of the message being presented or the efforts undertaken to present it. To get away from this old school, tired way of presenting, I'm taking a chapter out of the Jim Dowd, MD at Frank PR, school of new business book.
Jim Dowd is the best new business PR professional I've ever encountered. He had the new business process down to a science. He doesn't just sell to a prospect; he connects with them while demonstrating his knowledge of their business and the PR business. Ultimately, I believe the best asset he has to offer is his ability to convey that he is going to get personally involved in a company's program and not just be a babysitter and traffic cop.
Dowd not only owned his own agency when I worked with him, but he was in the trenches. He had major media and influencer relationships, understood news and what it took to build, manage, and execute a successful PR campaign. When he meets with a new business prospect, he does just that – he meets with them and has an interactive productive conversation with no PowerPoint or script to follow. Establishing this honesty in any organization will help to obtain the respect and trust it needs to maintain good business relations with its clients
Having worked for more than 15 years at PR agencies, it was apparent to me that most agency heads handled the level-setting – telling the prospect what they want to hear; rather than counseling them on what is realistic and actually obtainable. Sure, you might get the business this way, but this model is not sustainable. The agencies that take this approach often experience high client attrition rates. This will not only damage the reputation of the agency and its staff, but negatively impacts our industry. This approach leads to a scenario where upon engagement the agency staff is left scrambling to meet unrealistic expectations with the pressure of the agency head and client hovering over them.
Agencies that prefer this model are operating short-term businesses. They are looking to bring in dollars to cover current expenses. Few things work in the short term. Just take a look at the recent financial meltdown, greed, and short-term vision that brought all markets to their knees.
Short-term agency business models are the cause of the constant churn with both clients and employees. They're always out there looking for that next dollar to replace what left.
To solve this issue, it is incumbent upon the leader of a PR business to not try to be all things for all people and promise the world to a prospect to try to win their business. Be confident in the value you offer and what you do, and if it's not enough to land the business, perhaps the business wasn't a right fit in the first place. Whether your company implements good or bad business ethics can be the difference between whether or not it will succeed in the long run.
David Bray is the founder of dbray Media and partner of the Influence Consulting Group and Global PR Network. He was previously an EVP and principal at Middleberg Communications.