Business Leadership in 2009: Take Bold New Directions
During many interviews with corporations, organizations, and PR agencies—in addition to the media—in preparation to write my new book, The Media Savvy Leader, I found that not many corporate leaders are exchanging high-5s over the performance of even the largest global public relations agencies.
While agencies today, whether advertising or PR, charge hefty fees, many have not kept up-to-date on the skills needed to effectively communicate in the Internet era. They might be huge, employ a lot of people, have multiple offices (which is usually accomplished through the purchase of existing agencies), and make tons of money, but they still operate in silos and the level of expertise among offices is inconsistent. It’s a sadly dismal yet accurate picture.
On the other hand, such an environment presents tremendous opportunities for the C-level executive who wants to learn how to capture the media spotlight and establish a reputation as a compelling and charismatic leader.
Here's non-traditional checklist of tips that I compiled - working with a well-known head of corporate communications at a leading global corporation - to help you find a public relations agency that can deliver top quality results for your organization:
- Size does not matter. The size of a PR agency today is meaningless and not relevant to quality of work. In fact, there is some belief that today’s super-sized global agencies have been grown that large only in order to charge super-sized fees. That may work for large clients with significant budgets that get an ego-thrill by dropping the name of their agency but it does not always equate to meaningful results. What’s far more important is solid expertise to specifically deliver solutions that will help you become more successful.
- Reputation within your own business arena. Ask your colleagues, customers and even competitors what PR agency they believe delivers the best results.
- Be sure the agency really understands the business you are in. So many client-agency relationships fail because the agency does not fully understand a client’s business or the client has not honestly expressed personal expectations that are more important than stated objectives.
- Big guns often fire blanks. Determine who has the experience, who will do your work, and who will be accountable. PR agencies, especially the big ones, have a business model of presenting the “big guns” during new business presentations and then hand the work off to junior staff once they win your business. On the other hand, a senior level communications sole practitioner with deep credentials, vast contacts, savvy approaches, and a network of similar professionals with complimentary skills might be far more beneficial to create the results you need than a so-called full-service global agency.
- Chemistry counts. Chemistry with the communications team is important; it will lead to results. I suppose it is not unlike dating. While I researched the factors in finding the right agency match, Barbara Robinson at Dun and Bradstreet said it best, “chemistry between the agency and the internal team … will the agency be fun to work with. PR is hard work so why not make the hard work fun?”
- Gut sense. Rely on your intuition to judge what people say and how they conduct themselves.
- Top quality strategic communications strategists. Partner with people who know competitive trends, take pride in accomplishing terrific results for their clients, and are authentic professionals in their field. Invest in the talent of such professionals and you will enjoy outstanding results. After all, you are entrusting them to successfully enhance the image, reputation, and brand of your organization.
- Strategic communications consultants are not simply vendors. The people who supply your office with computers, IT services, and coffee machines are vendors. Invest in smart communications pros with clever ideas to competitively position your organization and to become even more successful.
Consider a bold new direction. Take charge, and beef up your own communications team with world-class expertise. Go out and hire some dynamic and creative strategic communications pros, former journalists and tech wizards who can enhance your organization’s reputation, image and bottom-line. I guarantee you will benefit from better and more meaningful results.
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David Henderson is an author, Emmy Award winning former CBS News correspondent, online publisher and adjunct professor. He lives in the Washington, DC, area.