Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Understanding Your Client's Mindset Is Essential To New Business

Every good salesman knows that you must understand your customer's needs in order to make a sale. The same holds true for ad agencies looking for new business growth -- you must understand the mindset and needs of your clients and prospects if you are going to be successful.

RSW/US has just released their 2010 New Business Report, titled A Client's Perspective on Agencies While many of the findings are not new, they offer a good reminder for the key elements to keep in mind as you plan and execute your new business program:

1. Clients want leadership, not partnership.
The pace and magnitude of change in marketing today has many clients confused and somewhat frightened. They don't need a friend to hold their hand, they need solid guidance and recommendations on how to take their products and services to an empowered consumer in a rapidly changing media environment.

When asked in the RSW survey why the respondents decided to change agencies, their top answers were: "Not happy with strategy or thinking" (44%), "not happy with creative" (42%), "wanted lots of ideas for a new project" (29%).
If you want to win (and keep) clients, you need to be proactive in leading your clients to explore new ways to market. If you don't, someone else will.

2. Clients want to know that you understand their company and their category.
Before you make any recommendation, you must give your client or prospect permission to believe that your ideas are based a sound strategy developed from your understanding of their company and customers. When RSW researchers asked about the factors that were most critical in helping to decide which agency to choose, the top two answers were: "Understanding your company direction" (69%) and "understanding of your market" (68%).

If you want to win (and keep) clients, you need to ask questions, stay on top of competitor's activities, and read and report on every new piece of consumer information you find. Remember that it is important to make sure your client knows how hard you are working to stay on top of things. Don't assume they will know. Send them articles from trade pubs and links to new studies, along with your summary of key insights and how it will/might affect your client. They will appreciate your efforts, and be more receptive to your recommendations.

3. Clients want reassurance. Show them a defined planning process and back it up with case studies that prove it works.
There's no need to invent a magic buzzword to define your methodology (the good ones have already been taken, anyway). The important thing is for your agency to have a planning approach that has proven successful for other clients.

Having a defined process works on two levels. It gives the CMO confidence that the agency will build its recommendations from a formula that worked for other marketers. And, it gives the CMO a rationale for his management to understand and accept his decision to choose a particular agency (keep in mind that every CMO has someone looking over his shoulder and will often make the most defensible decision, whether it is the best one or not).

The RSW study found that 45% of respondents listed "Agency's planning process" as a key factor in choosing an agency. The study also reinforced the power of case studies and testimonials for reassurance. "Recommendation from a colleague" (38%) and "recommendation from a marketer in another company" (37%) were also ranked highly as specific factors which most influenced their choice.

The RSW study has many other excellent insights, especially if you read the verbatim comments from respondents. My key takeaway from the study is something I have said in other posts -- clients aren't looking for a new ad or a new website, they are looking for a way to build a bridge between their brand and their customers.

How much you understand about their company, their customer, and their mindset will determine how successful you are at convincing them your agency is their best choice to build that bridge.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How Social Media is Impacting Public Relations and Why You Should Care

I just returned from an interesting and informative presentation on how social media is impacting journalism and public relations and wanted to share some insights with you. The program, titled "Industries In Flux: Media and Public Relations and the Impact of Social Media" was sponsored by PR Newswire.

The presentation featured a panel discussion from online editors at, and, as well as a senior social media director from Waggener Edstrom, a large PR firm. The panel discussion addressed the impact of social media on both breaking news and more traditional corporate and product public relations activities.

It was interesting to hear that while all three journalists shared some concerns about the potential loss of journalistic integrity and lack of oversight that social media brings to the dissemination of news, they all admitted its potential value to their organizations. As a result, all were incorporating social media tools into their everyday workflow, and continuing to explore new ways to use these tools to increase the interaction with their online readers. I was especially intrigued by the discussion on Google Wave, a new collaboration tool now in Beta test that looks like it has a lot of potential uses as an information-sharing tool.

It was also interesting to hear these journalists discuss the challenges and opportunities for social media as a vehicle for traditional public relations activities. The explosion of traditional and multi-media news release options comes at a time when the news industry is shrinking, which places a greater burden on both sides to be noticed and gain earned media time. When asked how to break through the clutter, or even to discern how to identify who to contact, one panelist wryly advised cyber-stalking through Twitter to begin a conversation with a journalist that might lead to their picking up a story.

The Waggener Edstrom exec offered an additional way to use social media for public relations -- do it yourself . While he was careful not to advocate bypassing the media for important news events, he related an example of shooting camera phone video of the opening of the Microsoft retail store in Phoenix and sending that out to the news media as well as directly to the public.

He knew that the opening of a single retail store was not a major enough event to warrant national coverage, however he wanted to generate as much publicity for his client as he could. So he spontaneously videoed the opening events and in-store activity.

Interestingly, two of the panelists had picked up his "down and dirty" video and ran with it on the assumption that it did not look "slick and doctored" and was therefore more likely to reflect true news value for their online readers. The general consensus of the panel was that social media offered tremendous upside as a public relations vehicle when properly utilized.

So what does this mean for marketers and their agencies?

First, I believe the increasing impact of social media on news and public relations is yet another confirmation for marketers that social media can play an important role in your marketing program. If you aren't embracing social media yet you should at least be experimenting with how to incorporate these new tools into your branding and sales program.

Second, as empowered consumers expand their use of social media as a replacement for more traditional media, it is imperative that marketers monitor the conversation to gauge marketplace reaction and trending discussions on their brand and category. Social media can be both a blessing and a curse as potentially harmful misinformation may be disseminated about a company or a brand. One example that was given during the panel discussion concerned a misquote by a reporter from Reuters during a Microsoft press conference. The misquote concerned the prospect of future layoffs and was immediately identified as potentially damaging to morale by an alert employee.

Simultaneous corrections were broadcast by Microsoft to multiple news outlets and online communities at Microsoft as well as to Reuters. A correction was then sent out by Reuters. The total time from the misquote hitting the wires to a correction was only 18 minutes. When you compare that response with the 72 hours it reportedly took Domino's executives to respond to a mocked-up video showing employee spitting on the pizzas before boxing and delivery, you can readily see the value of social media for crisis communications.

The use of social media as a public relations and media relations tool has implications for agencies as well. Of course, any good PR agency should be looking for ways to use social media for their clients in today's digital world. But there are also implications for understanding how to use social media as a business development tool. Clients want, and need, guidance on how to take advantage of social media and other new technology tools. By sharing success stories like the Microsoft misquote, agencies can help their clients understand and accept the value of social media for their brand marketing efforts. All agencies, not just PR specialists, would be smart to look for opportunities to discuss and recommend social media to clients and prospects.