Running a PR Agency – Big or Small, Challenges Remain the Same

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Council of PR Firms‘ Boston roundtable, to discuss industry and agency issues with fellow Boston agency leaders. This was my second time attending this annual event, and I again came away inspired, energized, reassured and enthusiastic. The folks I was lucky enough to sit around the “asylum white” Board room with at Weber Shandwick included agency leaders in executive management, HR and business development from large, global firms such as Porter Novelli, Weber and Fleishman-Hillard, to midsize and smaller agencies such as CHEN PR and March Public Relations. In all, there were about 20 of us who talked about what’s looking up in the PR industry, how PR has evolved since the advent of social and digital media, HR and recruitment challenges, the integration of advertising, digital, social, mobile and video into PR campaigns and much more. We spent a great deal of time talking about measurement – what clients want, how we provide it and what tools and strategies we are using to get there.

The thing that I always find most interesting about meeting with my industry colleagues – some of them even competitors – is that we all face similar issues. Large or small, focused on tech or healthcare or consumer PR – the agency challenges are always along the same lines. As the owner of one of the smaller agencies, I love to hear that we are successfully navigating the same issues that agencies of any size do – how to motivate staff, how to identify and hire the right people for our culture, how to juggle client demands with realistic budgets. It reminds me that sometimes getting together with your “frenemies,” as I like to call them, benefits everyone. Here are some of the issues that resonated across the board:

Recruiting. Currently, the biggest challenge is finding social and digital experts who understand communications strategy and PR. It’s easy to find one or the other, but the combination of both is valuable and rare. PR folks –that’s an open invitation to you to hone your social and digital skills and surpass those “social media experts” for jobs that require knowing more than how to Tweet. What’s the real value in using these tools in a strategic communications campaign?

HR. One of the big issues on the table was telecommuting and virtual work. I am obviously – as an owner of one of the first and most successful virtual agencies – fortunate to not have to deal with a traditional office environment where executive staff is trying to figure out how to provide the opportunity for employees to work from home some of the time. That balancing act can get tricky – providing the perk without it getting out of control, managing expectations between management and staff and still keeping employees motivated and happy. Almost every agency provides the opportunity to work from home some of the time for some of their employees, but much was discussed about how this affects training of junior staff, expectations from clients, and the overall culture. Apparently the new wave of workers expects this perk, so agencies are navigating their way and trying some interesting combinations of integrating virtual work with traditional office environments. Other topics on the HR front were how to manage employee demands for more and better perks, investment in training and opportunities for growth from within, as well as the return of bloated salary requests. We were all enthusiastic about joining an HR roundtable next to continue to inform one another and discuss these issues – helping to keep the industry in check.

Client Expectations. This is always a topic of discussion and I was glad to hear that budgets all around are returning to a more realistic level to align with the results desired by clients. Remember, you really do get what you pay for in PR. You can’t expect to saturate the market if you don’t put the proper investment behind that (money, time and executive commitment and belief). Remember what Bill Gates allegedly said about his last dollar

Measurement and Proof of Value. Speaking of client expectations, the burden of proof of reaching those expectations continues to drive discussions within all agencies. We talked about using tools such as Radian 6 and (our PerkettPR client) uberVU. We discussed the value of measuring how our promotions are driving traffic, sales leads, brand awareness and more – but the challenge remains to find the exact best way to do this. There is no PR industry standard and furthermore, clients don’t want to pay extra for it. The burden of proof is on PR firms – and how the different agencies handle that is all over the place. (On a self promotional note, our agency is working on a tool that fellow firms will definitely find of value – stay tuned for our launch this Fall.)

Competition. A great deal of discussion was spent on how PR agencies are taking business not from each other, but from other entities such as advertising agencies, digital houses and even the new found “social media” agencies. The common belief – and trend we’re all seeing – is that the shiny new ball syndrome of hiring an entire agency to execute social media is quickly fading. Social media is simply a new set of tools, not an enlightenment of communications strategy for newbie professionals who have never dealt with brand strategy, corporate crisis and more. The competitive landscape is wider, but PR is holding its own, as effective communications that illicit the proper actions continues to be key. Also hot for PR agencies is adding staff for mobile, digital and video content. Most agencies are moving from outsourcing this type of position to owning it in-house with a dedicated team or position.

I do believe there were a few laughs when I mentioned that the telephone has been around for quite a while, but it certainly doesn’t make everyone good at communicating. It’s true – and neither do social media tools. This is why the PR industry is not dying. We’re thriving – and our 2012 budgets and client rosters continue to reflect that truth. I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings to us as an industry.

If you’re a PR executive or agency, what trends are you seeing in the above areas? How are you navigating the changes discussed (or the traditional issues we all still face)?

Thanks to Weber for hosting, and to Matthew Soriano and the Council for including me. And of course, to my industry colleagues for participating. It’s always a pleasure learning from you all.

PS Head on over to the Council’s website for more industry stats, insights and information! It’s  a great resource.

Pssst, We’re Recruiting, Spread the Word

I’m happy to say that we’re on the hunt for some new, innovative employees. I wanted to spread the word as much as possible, so in addition to updating our careers page on the web site, I interrupt our regularly-scheduled blogging to share the following details. Thanks in advance for passing it along.

Are you a PR 2.0 expert with proven experience in both traditional programs and new media? PerkettPR is recruiting!

PerkettPR is seeking Account Strategists who can demonstrate the proven ability to run traditional PR programs such as media relations, customer/partner programs, speaking engagements, events initiatives and grassroots campaigns, as well as new media and digital production: social media campaigns, video, podcasts, etc.

Specifically, you must:

  • have a minimum of five years related experience
  • demonstrate results or case studies in PR and new media as well as client service
  • be comfortable – experience preferred – working from a home office
  • have experience in technology but demonstrate a willingness to work in industries such as healthcare, fashion, travel, entertainment. If you have specific experience to bring to the table, please highlight it
  • have an entrepreneurial spirit
  • show us why you are a standout – what will you teach us?
  • do your homework – communicate your understanding of who we are, our culture and how we are unique in the industry

Ideally, you will:

  • have a sense of humor – for fun and for sanity!
  • be in or near Boston, NYC, San Francisco or Detroit
  • not lead with “why I want to work from home”
  • have PR agency experience or client service experience
  • be creative in how and where you apply/show us your work
  • understand the bigger picture and give us an idea of how you will not only help deliver the best client service but help our organization grow and innovate

BIG HINT: if you follow @PerkettPR on Twitter and DM us that you have sent a resume, it will be more noticeable…

Submit your details to careers(at)perkettpr(dot)com and in the subject line, please indicate the position (Account Strategist) and location, (Boston, NY, Detroit or San Francisco). Visit our website for more details. Thanks for reading.

Starry Eyed Over Social Media

The Internet has been ablaze the last few months about social media and business. Everyone is trying to figure out the value of the different sites – from the “oldies” like Facebook and LinkedIn to newbies like Twitter, Seesmic, Plurk, Brightkite, etc. The value of such communities is especially abuzz in the realms of marketing and communications. People are catching on that marketing and PR are now – more than ever – about building relationships (as opposed to spinning news). PR executives who are not engaging with constituents – media, customers, partners, colleagues, competitors – in these new communities are missing a huge competitive advantage and opportunity. But who are the right constituents?

Just like anything – it’s how you yield the sword, not the sword itself, in my humble opinion. While building a fan base, securing thousands of followers or becoming a “top friend” can be fun, when it comes to business, how do these numbers translate? Where does the value lie? Does having thousands of Twitter followers suddenly make you a “social media expert?”

The ability to use – or experience with – communities like Facebook and Twitter do not make anyone a communications expert. Sheer follower numbers do not necessarily mean value – at least not to everyone. I may have 1000+ followers but that doesn’t mean anything to my clients unless I’m gleaming value specific to their goals. And even if one of their goals is to increase their user base, not all – or even the majority – of those followers are going to be appropriate users for my client’s products.

What if the content I’m sharing on these communities is irrelevant or my approach is more personal than professional? For example, some Twitter users don’t actually converse – they just spew updates about their day. That doesn’t actually build relationships. Some don’t recognize Twitter as a business opportunity but just have fun with their followers. (The smart ones do both – personal and professional communications – for reasons discussed in previous posts). Others build corporate entities only to “spam” followers and quickly lose them. So, while having a great following on these communities is important, so is understanding how to participate appropriately and glean the right value from them – and how to combine that with other communications strategies.

A lot of folks in the industry are also abuzz about “social media experts.” We’ve had plenty of six figure-seeking applicants tell us they know everything there is to know about social media. Personally, I think there are very few who can truly call themselves experts in this arena – yet – and I’m not impressed when an applicant just runs down a list of “Twitterati” that they have on their follower list or “web celeb” Facebook friends list.

Don’t spew names. Give me an example of how these relationships have helped add business value to your organization or your client’s business. How did your relationships increase a company’s users? What strategy did you have in place for using social media to build a brand and what metrics have you used to measure that brand awareness? Just using social media does not mean you know how to tie it to the bigger picture. I find this to especially be true with the younger generation of workers. Yes, they know how to use social media and are fully immersed in it. But do they understand business strategy, marketing goals and how to leverage these communities for such? Some do, but the majority may not yet understand the intricacies of business relationships and communication.

When thinking about new media and marketing, don’t get too starry eyed just because social media is a hot topic right now. Just as anyone can put a press release across the wire, anyone can build a massive following in these communities. But if the tools aren’t used properly – and combined with other elements of the business to execute a larger strategy – they become useless from a business perspective. Sometimes they can even become harmful.

What do you think? Have you found value in hiring a social media expert? How do you define “expert?”