Guest blog written by Jackie Kolek.
I had a truly bizarre call with a new business prospect last week, let’s call them Company X. Sadly, it was not the first time I have received these types of calls. We were contacted by Company X, who told us that they were looking for a new agency. Great. The prospect sent us a link to their web site and a backgrounder on the company. Terrific. So, we set up a call to get a download on their business and tell them a little bit about our agency and our relevant experience. All sounds good up to this point, right?
Yet, when I got on the phone with Company X last week the senior PR communications person immediately asked me to tell them my thoughts on their business and give them my recommendations on messaging and strategies for a PR program. WHOA. There are so many things wrong with this scenario that I could go on forever. For now, I’ll focus on the two most critical flaws.
First, the junior person who we were dealing with probably had not set expectations internally with her boss or bosses. They most likely ordered her to go find a new firm and didn’t give much more direction than that. While we had spoken and exchanged a few emails, we clearly agreed (in writing) that we would do a 30 min call to get some more background on Company X and tell them about us. Obviously that had not been communicated on Company X’s end and they were expecting us to come in with a specific proposal for them. Even if that was a good idea, this disconnect immediately put us at a disadvantage with the decision-makers and probably didn’t make our junior point of contact look good either.
Second, and most disturbing, is that Company X was looking for us to deliver thoughts on messaging and strategic recommendations before we’d ever had a real conversation with them. Without the benefit of hearing the client’s business goals and growth objectives any sort of communications recommendations would have been superficial and meaningless. Sure, we could say "you need to be on the cover of the Wall Street Journal" but what does that mean? First and foremost, we need to understand the client’s business in order to identify how communications can help them achieve those goals. Are they looking to break into a new target audience? Raise their profile with potential investors? Recruit and retain better talent? Reposition themselves in the market? Fix a tarnished reputation?
When I explained this to the senior marketing person at Company X, her response was "any firm we hire should be able to answer these questions." Well, enough said. We told Company X that we were probably not a good fit for their needs. I am sure they’ll go hire some firm who will tell them whatever they want to hear in order to win the business. And in six months time, Company X will be shopping for another firm.
Stacy, thanks for your comment. I can only imagine what it must be like to fight this battle from the inside. We’ve worked with several clients who report to folks that don’t understand that media relations is a means to an end, not the end itself. The education process can be painful for all involved.
It’s pretty amazing–and scary–how many communications pros like the one you’ve described above are out there. I think part of what contributes to this is that so many corp. communications or VP of marketing execs come from non-PR backgrounds. They may have some experience overseeing the PR function, but have never done it first-hand. So, you get questions about messaging, WSJ covers and press releases without an understanding of the strategy and development behind them.
It’s not only frustrating for agencies, but it’s also discouraging for those of us who are in-house. It’s one thing to have C-level execs not completely get it, but it’s another to have someone in the senior marketing role (often not a C-level marketing person…a whole ‘nother topic!) make decisions without a full understanding. Believe me, I can empathize with your frustration from the inside!