Posted by Tom Gable
A recent PRSA Counselors Academy survey identified the key issues facing PR agencies and internal staffs in the next few years in the ongoing transition of the PR professional from vendor to trusted counselor. The top line action items were finding new ways to: demonstrate return on investment (ROI), provide authentic counsel, embrace social media, improve technology and find new ways of measurement – all to the benefit of client service (and agency success!).
The results were presented at the recent PRSA International Conference in San Diego. A panel featuring Sydney Ayers, Joel Curran and yours truly delved into recommended action plans to move programs forward faster with brilliant research, planning and implementation using what the computer people call parallel processing on implementation – moving huge amounts of data (or other things) simultaneously toward a desired result.
Moving with Alacrity
Linear thinking and processing no longer cut it. Clients operate in real time (just like agencies!) and are expecting more from their PR professional than ever before. This is good news. Our profession keeps getting better. We are challenged to do even more and faster toward measurable results.
To get there, the best agencies and staffs build and nourish a pro-active, collaborative culture. At the heart of this culture is a commitment to providing authentic, strategic counsel for the long term and delivering meaningful results (as the survey indicated). The best agencies and internal teams from big to little create systems for research, planning, creative and management that enable them to work smarter and more effectively toward the ultimate goal: helping their clients, companies, organizations or institutions outpace their competition, grow market share and build momentum for future growth.
The first action item covered: a compulsion to understand the client universe.
Connecting with the Client
The following research check list probably replicates what most agencies and internal teams already do, perhaps providing an extra idea or two to build on. This can be a starting point for getting to know the client as fast as possible. There is a sense of urgency because of the state of the economy, growing competition and the 24/7 news cycle. PR pros need to know, to understand, to project, to feel, to be intuitive and empathetic and recommend brilliantly. Almost instantly. For your parallel processing research assignment, delve into the following five research action items:
- Business and Marketing Plans, Research
- Industry, Analyst, Competitive Reports
- Media Coverage, Perceptions
- Social Media Buzz
- The Internal Audit
- Envision the world in two years
- Critical success factors to achieve their vision
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Points of differentiation
- Core values
- Anecdotes to bring the stories to life
- Targets audiences prioritized
- Critical time lines
- Means of measurement
Internal audits are both a research and bonding exercise. At Gable PR, we will interview five to 15 people within a client organization, depending upon the size and complexity. Audits can last from 15 minutes to any hour (this is a powerful way to start a relationship and start your positioning as authentic, trusted counsel). We often conduct the audits at no charge, as our contribution to the learning curve (for a sample internal audit, please email be at firstname.lastname@example.org).
The audits are conducted individually and anonymously to encourage candor. We compile all the answers into a single document under each answer and remove the attribution. We also move the answers around randomly under each question, so there is no pattern; perceptions are important, the sources less so.
Agency teams analyze the verbatim responses, brainstorm, strategize and develop an executive summary with what we call “indicators for action.” The action items can include improved visioning, branding, internal communications, marketing initiatives, culture and future opportunities, plus insights into the heart and soul of an organization. The findings can be a wake-up call for senior management. One recent internal audit of a major cultural institution found huge gaps in internal communication. Different parts of the organization working in silos, largely in the dark (the so-called mushroom effect). The institution was in a crisis mode. The findings helped its board of directors and senior management come together with a new vision for the organization and the plans to achieve the vision.
The research and internal audit provide insights and strong foundations for getting it right internally, which has to be done before connecting with external audiences. Next: the external audit and gap analysis.