A few years back, I had the rare opportunity to lunch with the legendary Harold Burson.
I put him on the spot and asked him to name the one strategy Burson took in the 1960s and ’70s to overtake Hill & Knowlton in the ’80s as the world’s largest PR firm.
He paused and then said, “That’s easy. We insisted every single account team accompany a client’s salesman on his calls. By listening first-hand to the client’s customer’s wants and needs we crafted precisely tailored campaigns that rang true with target audiences and ran rings around our competitors’ work.”
I followed up by asking if Burson continued to follow his strategy. He shook his head and said, “Nope. And, I have no idea why we don’t.”
I cite this conversation because Matthew Schwartz who, in my opinion, knows more about how PR works than the collective staffs of every trade publication’s editorial staff combined, just penned an article for CMO.com that illustrates exactly how far ahead Mr. Burson was in his thinking.
I’ll let you peruse the full text but, the bottom line is this: CMOs (and, one would assume CCOs) are just now waking up to the brilliance of tag-teaming client and prospect calls with sales AND marketing executives in attendance.
Schwartz spotlighted a company called Legrand North America, which sends sales and marketing executives on sales calls. They believe sales and marketing, in tandem, can better close the sale when push comes to shove.
“Wrong!” As a certain president-elect would say.
Marketing communications executives SHOULD attend as many sales pitches as possible. But, they shouldn’t be part of the pitch. They should bring their listening skills with them and home in on EXACTLY what’s keeping customers and prospects up at night. To quote a recurring character from Seinfeld, “That’s gold, Jerry. Gold.” Why? Because it assures the subsequent campaign will deliver.
Primary, qualitative research runs rings around the panacea of the day, Big Data, and its cousin, Data Analytics.
But, I’m not aware of a single integrated marketing firm that implements what the Burson of PR Past practiced. None.
We dabble at it. And, when we have, it’s produced immediate results. But, I blame myself for not insisting it be embedded into every single client assignment. And, I blame every CMO and CCO who relies solely on quantitative-heavy Big Data to shape their campaigns. We’re better than that.
Nothing replaces primary research. And, there’s no better way to invest in a client relationship than to INSIST the account team tag along on sales calls, listen carefully and shape the campaign accordingly.
Sadly, we’ve become enamored with data and analytics to tell us what to do.
I’m taking a guess here, but I’ll bet if Big Data had existed in the ’60s and ’70s, Mr. Burson would have taken it very seriously. But I’d also like to think he’d still insist his account team attend sales meetings and listen, first-hand, to exactly what the end user’s pain points were and how the client was best positioned to solve them.
Would that the greats of the past could opine on the ‘best practices’ of today. I’d be willing to bet the big names of the past would probably be the biggest opponents of the Big Data driven campaigns of today.