Obligations go both ways

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My last couple of blogs have been about the obligations of professional firms, such as public relations consultancies, to their clients.

While most of the responsibility lies with the consultants to make the relationship work, these obligations do go both ways. There is no doubt that some clients receive much better value and outcomes from their public relations consultants than others because of the way they respond.

The difference in getting good value largely boils down to the amount of time needed get an end result, and this can vary significantly client to client. Unfortunately, a lot of time can be wasted by clients procrastinating, not making decisions, and not giving timely responses.

A critical aspect is for clients to have confidence in the consultants they appoint. Mutual respect and trust are needed to progress activities quickly and efficiently. Where this exists clients invariably get more for their money.

A point we make to new clients is that our consultancy strives to lift public relations up the list of management priorities, so activities can be implemented as easily as possible. We don’t kid ourselves that public relations is going to be as important to clients as it is to us, day in and day out, and we recognise that senior executives have a hundred and one other things demanding their attention.

However, if clients can do their checks, discuss reasons for change, or give authorisations quickly, and remember what the overarching PR plan is, the end result is usually much better.

Most public relations consultants have had the experience of clients that put up barriers to getting activities implemented for seemingly no apparent reason.

It often appears more to do with internal politics or executives (particularly new employees) wanting to put their stamp on things rather than doubts about the value of the activities proposed.

Effective consultants can cut across such internal issues to get the job done but often it can take extra, and usually unnecessary, time. It can be frustrating for the consultant and because of the additional time taken, more expensive than it needs to be for the client.

This is where a strategy document is important as a management tool. Indeed, documentation is critical to remind consultant and client alike what is being done and why. But too many Strategic Plans remain as a draft and are never used the way intended. Or are drafted in a tick-the-box type manner and then placed in a file and not referred to again.

Unfortunately, frustration and holdups can end up affecting creativity, something that should be an area where the consultant adds real value to a relationship. If consultants start to believe it is too hard getting ideas accepted, they will inevitably stop suggesting them. Clients then miss out on new ideas being proposed and even getting suggestions on additional communication activities for internally developed opportunities that a client had not considered.

Every public relations firm I know has seen a perfectly good media release or article beaten to death by rewrite after rewrite by different departments, either because someone thinks they can write better (usually they can’t) or wants to promote an aspect that’s only interesting to them.

In either instance, if the article does survive, it’s usually not as persuasive or as readable as the original, took many more hours to produce than was necessary, doesn’t get across the best messages, and if it is a media release, probably won’t receive the coverage.

Bad procedures can also develop where the internal clearance system doesn’t involve the consultant or keep them involved, and they are faced with a final article or release that neuters the messages, impact and useability. Involving the consultant in discussion about changes during any sign-off process will invariably give a much better outcome.

When things get bogged down in the system, for example with something as relatively simple as a media release, unnecessary consultancy time is spent on reminders and follow up.

Timelines can often be critical and clients need to listen to the experience and knowledge of their consultants on when an action should take place.

Again, using the example of a media release, we have experienced times when a client has sat on a release for weeks and then on a Friday afternoon we get told “it must go out today”. Our often-repeated advice that 5pm on a Friday is probably the worst possible time to distribute a routine media release is ignored. Yet we know the release is unlikely to get the same interest as it would if a more considered approach, such as sending it out early the following week, was taken.

It often turns out that the timing decision has been made for no good reason (other than someone is going on holiday and wants to clear their desk) and that distribution could easily have waited until a more appropriate time.

Unfortunately such delays can also mean the subject of the release may have lost its moment in the news cycle, which means the time spent on developing it in the first place has been wasted.

Clients need to remember why they retained the consultancy – for their skills, experience, knowledge, contacts and judgement.

The advice the consultancy gives is based on this and they should be credited with the professional ability to do the job agreed.