Reputation

Shaking HandsAs a communications agency, we don’t do anything in isolation. We work with clients, strategic partners, other PR agencies, media, bloggers, online influencers, government, community members, stakeholders, target markets, the public… the list is never-ending. That means we had better know how to play nice with others.

For today’s blog post, I am going to focus on what we do to create a strong relationship with our clients – there are responsibilities on each side. In my next blog post, I will focus on what we look for in a good client. (We all know that a good client gets a more productive communications team and bad clients suck the energy out of you.)

Below is a list of what we believe makes a good agency/client relationship.

Define Scope of Work

That means laying it out in a letter of agreement and ensuring that the client understands what they are paying for, how much they are paying, and how often. This agreement also means that we know their expectations of us. By doing this, if a project expands, it is easy to sit down with the client and explain what has changed and what it will take to include the new piece of work in the contract. And, if the scope of work lessens, we have that conversation too.

Communicate Regularly

We make sure that we communicate with our clients on a regular basis. That can be via e-mail, phone calls or in meetings; sometimes it’s just a quick update so they know the status of the project. We have clients who use us as their marketing and communications department – and often that means they handover the work and we have a monthly meeting and check in when we need something. We go past that and provide weekly status reports and we call and check in to find out what is new, challenging or if something has changed. We don’t leave the client in the dark – ever.

Stay on Track

We meet our deadlines and our budgets. If there is any kind of issue, we inform the client and explain why as soon as possible.

It’s Not Just 9-5

We also make ourselves available to our clients. I know some communications professionals who don’t answer their phone after 5 p.m. That’s not how we work – if a client needs me, they can get me. We work with clients in a lot of different time zones. If a client has a concern or an idea and they want to connect to discuss it, that is part of my role. And certainly during an issue or crisis, I am available 24/7.

Normally, we work with communications managers, directors, vice presidents, presidents and CEOs – and their schedules are busy. Sometimes, the only time they have to speak with me is on a Saturday morning. I have to say that we have had some clients who have needed to have boundaries set. A random 7 a.m. call on a Saturday morning to talk about an idea for a blog post doesn’t work, but a meeting set for a Saturday morning because the client has been out of town or was in meetings with lawyers all week because of an acquisition or merger – I am there. For the most part, our clients have always been respectful about contacting us outside of office hours, but they absolutely know that when they need us – we are there for them.

Go the Extra Mile

We go the extra mile. Every so often a client will come to us after working with another agency that they weren’t happy with. When I review the work done, it’s not that it was terribly done, it just seems that they didn’t take that extra step to make it great or exceptional. We are always working to do that. We love to exceed expectations… it makes our AHA crew do a happy dance and it keeps our clients loyal.

Provide Sound Advice

We aren’t “yes” people. Our clients pay us for our expertise and experience. I have had to deliver some tough feedback over the years and not everyone in the room was happy with me at times, but I had to do my job. If we feel that a client is going in the wrong direction, we will explain why we think that and provide advice on what to do.

Be Professional

We take our work seriously. Our clients know we like to have fun, but they also know that we’re a solid professional team and that they can count on us to deliver. They trust us – and that is important.

It isn’t always easy or convenient to do all the things necessary to build a great client/agency relationship, but you need to work at them. When a client trusts us with their brand reputation, it’s our job to do what it takes to meet the objectives. The points in this blog are a big part of how we do that and how we get great clients who stay with us for years.

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brandEvery communications professional has seen this happen. You work hard to develop a strong, reputable brand, the brand voice and the brand promise. You create brand standard guidelines and you build out a tool kit for staff to use when creating documents, presentations or in any communication of the brand. You generate great media coverage where your CEO, President or GM hits the key messages and positions the brand well.

A success, right? Not so fast. Then a client, customer, guest or patient shows up to the frontline and no one delivers on the brand promise (#EpicFail).

A great brand and brand reputation have to be brought to life through the actions of employees. They have to deliver on the brand promise. But to do that, they need to be engaged – and the brand promise needs to “belong” to them. An exceptional brand is developed through the consistent, long-term actions of employees. Great marketing, ads, social media and PR campaigns are damaged by a cranky staff member, an employee who doesn’t return calls or e-mails in a timely fashion, or someone in your organization commenting negatively on social media about your product, services or another element.

Engaging your employees as “brand ambassadors” and helping them to deliver on the brand promise is a worthwhile investment for an organization. Making a strategic decision to engage employees in this way happens over time. And you need to be consistent in these efforts.

Here are the steps for creating brand ambassadors.

Step 1 – Survey

Develop an internal (and anonymous) survey to see where engagement currently sits. This will give you a benchmark so that as you move forward, you can identify where you have improved and what still needs work.

Step 2 – Identify Influencers

Identify key employees who are influencers, community builders, outliers and even skeptics and create an employee engagement advisory panel. Don’t just pull in managers and people you know will agree with you. Bring in those who will challenge the status quo – find out what they think and why. Ensure you have a range of employees and that all areas or departments are represented.

Step 3 – The Advisory Panel

Provide the results from the survey – keeping necessary information confidential – to the advisory committee. Work with them to identify the key areas that need attention. Choose one or two areas to work on – don’t try to change everything overnight. Create an engagement plan based on the areas and through a town hall meeting, an all staff meeting or another approach (online meeting, etc.) – share the plans with staff. The advisory board should meet monthly.

Step 4 – Internal Communications

Creating an internal site on your intranet, where employees can ask questions, provide feedback and communicate with each other, is always a good idea. Building your internal community and engaging employees is not a “top down” process.

Step 5 – Measure

Measure your success to ensure you are on track and continually improving. This goes back to the initial survey, as well as defining other key measurement elements and key performance indicators, and setting your goals and objectives. You need to know what you want to achieve in order to measure your progress. And measurement must be a key element of your internal plan.

Step 6 – Celebrate Successes, Address Challenges

Share your wins and challenges with staff. Keep them involved and informed. Meet with the advisory committee once a month, at a minimum. They will be the ones who will help spread the word internally.

Remember: without employee engagement, your brand promise is just words on paper and is of no use to anyone – especially your clients, customers, guests or patients.

 

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Crowded

We work with quite a few consumer products or services clients. We were writing a proposal the other day for a potential client that offers products and services in an overcrowded and very noisy market sector and it started an interesting conversation in the AHA office. In this day and age of digital and social media, how spread out does an organization need to be in order to reach their target market?

One of the first things we do with clients is review where they stand relative to competitors – both online and in traditional media. It’s important to understand the current landscape before developing a strategy.

Once we know what the playing field looks like, we review the products and services of the client and what they offer potential customers, guests or patients. In a marketplace where many companies are offering similar products and services, it is important to take a bit of a deep dive into this. To not just take what you see at face value, but to look for the unique areas – the “magic” that belongs only to the client – and how that can be packaged and promoted to engage both traditional and online/social media. We also look at how it can be used on their own website.

Many of our business to consumer clients are in specialized fields. That gives us some excellent opportunities to educate and inform their target markets. It also lets us profile the client as an expert in their field. We do this through bylined articles printed in trade and consumer publications and online, with informative and entertaining blog posts, through a series of short videos, through Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit, and by using webinars and a range of other tactics that put forward editorial style, valuable information that is not marketing speak and doesn’t try to “sell” – rather it educates and informs. In a crowded marketplace, consumers want to understand the expertise of an organization and they want to see the benefits of their products and services. Providing this type of information is far more valuable than focusing on a hard sell.

There is a great deal of opportunity to blend a media relations, social networking and direct to consumer approach that, done well, will have a measurable (and strong) impact on driving potential business through the door. Once they are in the door, it’s up to the staff to deliver on the brand promise and take good care of this customer, guest or patient.

Supporting staff in delivering the brand promise will be next week’s blog topic.

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protest angryI wanted to write a quick update on the example I used in my most recent reputation management and issue communication blog post.

According to a Global News report, Centerplate, the company whose CEO Desmond Hague was seen in a video kicking a dog in an elevator, has released a statement. It says that they do not condone animal abuse and are undertaking an internal review. The statement also says that Hague has agreed to undergo counselling for anger management issues and has pledged a significant, personal, multi-year financial commitment to help support the protection and safety of animals.

In theory, what is outlined in the statement are the right things to do. However, I find it interesting that this statement comes out after many of the company’s clients, such as the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Mariners, have made their own statements of concern about this issue.

As I said in my earlier blog post, I don’t know what Centerplate’s strategy is for managing this issue. I don’t know the specifics of why it was decided to respond via statements. My opinion is based on how it is being played out in a public forum.

However, having said that, it is clear that this reactive, hiding behind statements from lawyers and PR people is not working. People are angry, they are calling for Centerplate’s contracts to be cancelled, and are threatening to boycott the food that is sold at stadiums that use Centerplate. It’s time to change up the strategy and get authentic about this.

Is Hague or his PR team reading the tweets and comments on articles about this issue? Centerplate’s website is still up, but the list of clients has been taken down. That’s not transparent.

To me, the Centerplate statement is clearly reactive and having these statements coming from lawyers and PR people is not helping. Not to mention that social media sites have been taken down and the website is being changed, so we can’t find specific information about the clients. They have taken an “information out” approach, instead of finding a way to engage in a dialogue. (It would be a very tough dialogue.)

Hague needs to stand up and visibly get in front of this – and take the heat. In my professional opinion, he needs to do a video where he acknowledges what he did wrong and fully apologize. He needs to do a media tour and go to the breakfast shows or morning news in the cities where Centerplate has clients and talk about his mistake, what he is doing to make it right, and what he is doing to help abused animals. And he needs to do it now. I don’t want to hear “we are doing an internal review and he has pledged money” – I want to know what is being reviewed, how much money he is going to contribute, the names of the animal organizations, and that he realizes that this is unacceptable behaviour.

He needs to do more than send out these statements to media. I want to see a real person who is truly sorry for what they have done and realizes how horrific his actions were. It seems that many other people do too.

It feels like he is hiding behind his legal and PR teams and using statements that he doesn’t have to actually speak about what he did. In my opinion, until he steps forward and shows us that he realizes what he did is wrong and takes full responsibility for what he did, the anger of the stadium food-buying public isn’t going to stop.

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