The news that the CIPR is finding itself a bit cash strapped is an interesting reflection on the fate of industry as a whole. Desparate times and all that!
We’ve drawn up our own view of how PR agencies need to rebuild their business model to survive the downturn, because despite the green shoots, we know that the underlying trend among a lot of companies in the sector is not healthy.
So this is our manifesto for the ‘tenties’:
1) Do away with retainers
Taking money from clients every month to then spend over two thirds of your time proving that they should love you, despite your general lack of coverage on their behalf is really no longer sustainable. Agree a budget for every activity and help the client get best value. If your cash flow can’t survive without retainers, then you need to look seriously at how well your business model works.
2) Understand your client’s business
Before you even attempt to float a story in the press, try writing up a case study or two from some of your client’s customers to get a good understanding of what the heck you are going to try and sell to the media. If you can’t write, then change jobs, because you’re in the communications business, dealing with professional communicators and need to be on their wavelength to truly understand what they need from you.
3) Be honest about costs
PR agencies aren’t charities and clients aren’t fools – they know you need to run their account profitably, so be upfront about what it’s going to cost them and what they’ll get. Agree your service levels, define your deliverables, then make sure you deliver, and make sure you don’t oversell your abilities to your client or they’ll just end up disappointed and you’ll get fired.
4) Bin the pitching team
The whole idea of an agency ‘new business team’ is an anathema – It’s a bit like sending the high school prom queen on a first date, then following up with Ugly Betty. If you want a proper, long-lasting honest relationship, then you should send in the account team that will do the work to sell your services – the people who win the business should be the people who do it.
5) Set reasonable expectations
The average agency client relationship lasts just 18 months because 99% of agency pitches are dishonest – you may have a good insight, but you can’t guarantee press coverage. However you cut it, ‘advertorial’ is just another form of paid advertising, and showing acres of web coverage is hardly a fair indication of your ability to get consistently into the Tier 1 press.
You can’t deliver the earth on a shoestring, so don’t promise it. Nor should you promise ‘risk free’ or ‘money back’ introductions – Clients aren’t stupid – they know you’ll more than get back the fees you subsidised in the introduction period when they do sign the retainer.
6) Hire decent staff and look after them
The PR agency is riddled with examples of agencies that burn and churn their people. Clients don’t want that – they want consistency, creativity, excellence and you’re not going to be able to deliver it if your team is made up of overstressed AEs working every hour of the day and night. Manage your processes, streamline your admin and make use of the best technology available to let your people focus on delivering results.
7) Plan and manage your business effectively
Media relations should not be reactive – it’s a function of marketing, which is process-led, timetabled and structured. If you plan activities effectively, build opportunities to raise coverage and manage your business efficiently you’ll deliver the results your clients need, and not have to waste both your time, and the client’s, justifying your existence.
8 ) Don’t mass mail press releases
The average journalist’s inbox receives over 500 emails a day – that’s why mass mails and ‘selling in’ have such an abysmal success rate. If you have a relevant story, you should know which journalists are going to write about it, and target them directly. The more you do this effectively, the more they will trust you, and the more you will get published.
If you don’t have a relevant story, then help the client to build one – there’s always some opportunity to do something that will raise press interest – but it has to be relevant.
9) Look after your press contacts
Like any business you have customers – the media, and you’re selling them something – in this case the raw material to make stories for their readers. Treat your journalists well, and they will ‘buy’ regularly from you. That will raise your value to your clients, and make your business more successful.
10) Widen your service portfolio
The days of the stand-alone PR agency are dead and gone – you need to help your clients execute integrated campaigns that leverage direct marketing, eshots, events, internal comms, and guerrilla tactics. Not only will this enhance the power of your campaigns, it will save the client money.