PR Agencies Should Not Have to “Return” to Client Service in a Down Economy

We’re excited and proud to welcome our two newest clients – Contactual and Litle & Co. We’re particularly proud of this announcement not only because it caps off another year of growth for us, but because Contactual’s CMO, Karen Leavitt, has returned to PerkettPR for the third time in her career. There is no better testament to our ability to deliver solid business ROI than when clients become repeat customers and continue to hire us as they move along to new companies over the years. Thank you, Karen!

While new client wins are certainly a reason to celebrate, the news also brings us back to a core value that should always be top-of-mind: client service. If we didn’t provide excellent client service we wouldn’t have repeat clients like Karen. I’ve read several articles over the last few months about the “return of client service” in a down economy. While I understand this mantra might be relevant (we can only hope) in consumer-facing businesses such as retail, travel & tourism or restaurants, it seems irrelevant for the PR industry.

If it takes a down economy for you to be treated right by your agency, then you are with the wrong agency. I know the situation – it’s part of what drove me to start PerkettPR over a decade ago: the economy booms, agencies get more incoming business calls than they can handle, they want as much revenue as possible and it drives them to take on new clients without having the proper account teams in place to deliver great client service. Staff is stretched too thin and as a result, service suffers.

In a down economy, when the client roster begins to shrink a bit, agencies are almost, by default, “right sized.” A smaller client roster can enable them to spend more time on each account and clients see an uptick in attention to detail, senior involvement and results. In addition, agencies can take a moment to reflect on what could be improved, what overall client health looks like and which services are delivering the best ROI – to the client and the agency.

So how is your agency relationship? What do you wish PR agencies would do better – now and in the future? Have you taken the time to assess if client service is consistent? Has your agency asked you how they can improve, or offered new ideas for what is certain to be a tumultuous year?

Agencies – use this time to focus on top-to-bottom client service improvements – and make them a part of your ongoing culture. Ask your clients if – and how – their priorities have changed for the year and how you can subsequently redirect communications efforts to ensure they meet their goals. Have you asked clients their assessment of the economy’s effect on their business? The industry? Are you helping them to focus on the most cost-effective campaigns, or have you been moving forward business-as-usual?

Excellent client service should be your staff’s number one priority at all times. If you’ve strayed from this focus in the past, take the necessary steps now to get back on track – and ensure such changes last well beyond the economic rebound.

Systems Thinking & the Unintended Long Term Consequences of Slashing Your Marketing Budget Now

“If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.”
- Bill Gates

I’ve been learning about Systems Thinking lately and I believe it applies to our blog post on Tuesday about why PR and marketing budgets should NOT be cut in a down economy (and of course, why our PR Stimulus offer can help!)

The basic belief behind Systems Thinking is that doing the most obvious thing is not always – in fact, rarely – the best thing to do. Problems are a result of multiple, integrated issues, not just one component. Few business leaders take the time – or understand how – to identify the events, trends and causes that lead to a problem or that should be considered in a solution (a “causal loop”). So often the “fixes” that business leaders apply to problems fail and rather create a temporary solution for today that lead to more problems tomorrow.

I would say that applies to pulling PR and marketing as one of the first cost cutting measures. If no one knows about you and your company, no one buys, if no one buys, well – you get the picture – it’s a related loop. Shouldn’t marketing continue to be a priority for businesses in a down economy…. shouldn’t PR be one of the last things to go? I’d be interested in how systems thinking experts would analyze this situation, given that systems thinking is supposed to help organizations that want to develop and sustain competitive advantage. Just as your competitors are going quiet, don’t you want to grab this opportunity to fill the void? If you put PR and marketing on hold now, you could spend even more money in the future trying to completely “relaunch” from a marketing perspective.

The noise is quieting down as your competitors are hunkering down – work with experts (PR agency, social media expert, marketing consultant – whatever is best for your business) to ensure that your marketing is smart, nimble, focused and effective. Take advantage of the opportunity left by others who only see the obvious route – to slash budgets – but haven’t taken the time to think about the long term ramifications and solutions. Look for agencies (yes, like ours) that know “PR 2.0″ – the strategies and tools deployed for such can deliver more cost-effective campaigns that still keep awareness at an all time high.

Marketing and promotion in a down economy is a golden opportunity for those who can think dynamically and understand how “today’s decisions can have both intended and unintended consequences – leading to tomorrow’s successes and problems.”