Jun 102011

I get a lot of value from discussions on LinkedIn. Right now there is a very active thread in the PR Professionals group about “what do you say to a client who doesn’t see the ROI from PR.” This discussion has hit a nerve, and it has received 78 comments. Here’s the link, but unlike some groups on LI it has not opened discussions to nonmembers.

I can sympathize to an extent — who hasn’t done good work in the past that for some reason wasn’t appreciated. But in going over some of the comments, I have to think many of the respondents are part of the problem. There are many things you can do to keep expectations aligned with clients, and some of these commenters aren’t doing them.

First, there are a few comments along the lines of “it’s my job to get coverage, and it’s the sales team’s job to sell.” Well, it’s certainly true that good communications results never replace the need to actually make sales. But to pretend that PR is totally separate from revenue growth is foolish and invites problems.

All communications projects need to demonstrate ROI, and this is a big reason my agency primarily does social media work today. You can quantify the results so much more comprehensively than the traditional story placement. Success metrics don’t need to be sales leads — they could be organic SEO growth, deal capture, reduced costs in other areas like customer service or the social media mapping of prospects. But if you can’t demonstrate ROI, you just won’t get funded, at least not in the B2B and B2G worlds I live in.

Second, in my opinion the time to start setting expectations is during the sales process, before the client is even on board. If you seem desperate for the business, drop your price when asked, overpromise to close etc., it will come back to haunt you. There is a psychological aspect to client service and you get the kind of treatment you allow. I start early on “defining success” for a project, collaboratively with the client of course.

Closely related to that is my belief that if you come off as an order taker, you will be viewed as one. Smart clients want honest counselors, who will give them valuable feedback based on their PR expertice and knowledge of the client’s niche. If you devalue yourself to make the sale, then why would the client value you later? Of course it’s a lot easier to take this tack if you run your business well and aren’t looking to grow at all costs.

Finally, you need to look to integrate your tactics early on with the sales team, and when possible integrate into the sales automation package used by the client. When the sales team views you as a resource, suddenly the budget is easier to defend and grow. When Strategic moves into the sales integration stage of engagements, we look to inject the social media success we earn into whatever CRM/automation tool the client uses. In the past we’ve been able to work successfully with Eloqua, Marketo and HubSpot.

Clients can be tough, and there will be occasional disagreements even when you do everything right. But many in our field need to do a much better job communicating the value of their craft, right from the start. They’ll enjoy the work a lot more, and won’t have to vent on LinkedIn.

  One Response to “Not Appreciating PR — Is It the Client, or Us?”

  1. Very well written and well thought out. Makes me wish I went into PR.

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