Posts Tagged ‘agency’

You Don’t Need To Know Everything

I recently took on a new role within Edelman (it’s a good thing, don’t worry), and as a result have begun working with a new team – once again, spread across different offices. Last week, I made a trip down to our DC office to meet with several of them.

You know what I did down there?

I learned.

I sat with each member of the team there and asked them what they did on a day-to-day basis; how they saw themselves within the team; what was going well and what wasn’t, and how I could help them. When they had questions I answered, but in general I said as little as possible and just absorbed.

I found it immensely valuable.

It seems like common sense, but I don’t think many people manage to find the time to make these sorts of meetings happen. To me though, they’re among the most important conversations that I will have in the near future – these are the people I’ll be working with day in, day out; getting to know them, what makes them tick, what they like and dislike and what they need from me will make it a thousand times easier to do my job. Plus, they’re a great group of people who I really like, which makes things even better.

I know that I’m good at what I do. By the same token, I know that my new colleagues are good at what they do, too (really freakin’ good), and that we have a tonne to learn from each other. I certainly didn’t learn everything over the space of a few hours meeting with them, but it’s a start.

What’s more — and critically — through these meetings I let them know that I don’t pretend to know their jobs. I’ll rely on them to educate me and on the leaders of the team to let me know where I’m needed, so I can focus appropriately.

Will I have ideas? Sure. I already do. However, I’m making sure I take the time to make sure that my ideas are grounded in reality and not just flights of fancy, and that I don’t just interfere in things that are working well when there are things that really do need my attention.

My old boss gave me a good piece of advice recently — he said you don’t need to know everything; instead, you need to develop a team around you that you can trust and that can make sure you know everything you need to, so you can help where you’re needed and get out of the way where you’re not.

Good advice.

9 Criteria For Selecting A Social Media Agency

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about 8 factors to consider when selecting a “social media expert.” Looking back now, I can see how my approach has evolved and matured since then. What’s more, as I’ve spent more time on the consulting side, my focus has shifted from self-identified “experts” to agencies.

Chris Kieff wrote a post last week giving his thoughts on some numbers-focused ways to select a social media consultant. Personally, I think the list was much too focused on superficial numbers at the expense of useful depth (I have fewer than 1,000 Facebook friends and too small an ego for my own fan page so, according to his criteria, I’m not a good consultant).

So, without further ado, here are nine ways to evaluate a social media agency.

Strategic approach

Flashy contests and big-hit ideas are attractive to companies, for sure. However, all too often they do absolutely nothing to move the needle on companies’ objectives. So, while there’s nothing wrong with creative ideas (more on that shortly), they absolutely need to be paired with a strategic approach that takes into account the nuances of your situation. That means considering objectives, stakeholders, your key audiences, other overarching strategic considerations and appropriate metrics alongside the tactical ideas.

How to assess: Look for depth of thinking and how that ties back to your broader situation, rather than just for the ‘big idea’.

Long-term thinking

Campaigns can work, but starting from scratch for each campaign limits the potential effectiveness of those campaigns and runs the risk of generating social media scorched earth. Look for agencies with a long-term approach – with thoughts on how they’re going to generate ongoing engagement with fans you acquire; with ideas for how to maintain attention between your larger spikes in activity.

Good agencies are thinking outside the campaign box, and towards longer-term brand building, reputation building, issues management and relationship-building approaches. Demand these elements in any ideas your prospective agencies bring forward.

How to assess: Look for proposals that focus on long-term growth rather than (or in addition to) short-term benefits.

Integration

I’ve written many, many times about the importance of integrating social media with other communications channels. Operating in a silo goes against the reality – that there are significant overlaps between disciplines nowadays.

Good agencies should be able to (with the help of other agencies, if necessary) formulate, propose and, if necessary, work with your other agencies to execute an integrated plan that pulls together multiple media – earned, paid, owned and social.

How to assess: Look for ideas  that blend the strengths of different media forms when assessing proposals.

Working well with other agencies

Good agencies will not only provide a way to manage the inter-agency relationship, but provide examples of times they’ve worked productively with other agencies to achieve the best possible results from the client. Look for these examples and for their suggestions on how to work collaboratively with your other agencies.

How to assess: Make this part of your client reference checks.

Measurement

Does the agency have a point of view on how you should measure the activities they’re proposing? Assuming you’ve provided them with your business objectives, their activities should tie back into that. They should then tie their measurement through to those objectives.

Caveat: That measurement may involve seeing sales, website analytics or other internal measures from you. If you aren’t prepared to provide them, don’t be surprised if measurement suffers accordingly.

How to assess: Look for clear ties from objectives, to tactics, to measurement in proposed programs.

Case studies

Agencies should be able to provide concrete examples of work they have executed for other clients. While client confidentiality often means they may not be able to talk about it on their website, they should be able to muster solid examples, with solid approaches, execution, measurement and results.

How to assess: Ask for examples of prior work that are directly relevant to your challenges.

Ethical grounding

Difficult ethical issues abound in advanced social media use nowadays. Should you post that status update under your client’s name? Should you edit that wikipedia page? There are plenty of difficult issues that could get your company into trouble if handled improperly.

Whether you’re looking for an agency to help establish your social media foundation (employee policies, processes, etc) or to execute marketing programs, make sure your agency has navigated these issues before.

How to assess: Ask for examples of difficult ethical quandaries that your prospective agencies have navigated and ask about their approaches to specific conundrums.

Ability to break through the clutter

Let’s not kid ourselves – creativity is important. The digital landscape is becoming busier and busier, and companies need to find a way to break through the noise. That could be through a big creative idea; it could be through a differentiator such as improved customer service; it could be through other means. However you’re going to break through the clutter, it’s needed.

How to assess: Look for elements that make the agency’s ideas stand apart. However, don’t put all your focus on this at the expense of other factors.

Willingness to say “no”

Regardless of the type of company you work for, you need an agency partner that isn’t afraid to give you the best advice possible, even if you don’t always want to hear it. So, look for agencies who are prepared to tell you when an idea isn’t going to work, or when your suggestions may not be the best approach.

As the client, you’ll expect them to follow your ultimate decision, but until that point you need them to give you the best advice they can regardless of whether it matches with yours.

“Yes men” aren’t needed.

How to assess: If you like, you can use a scenario to assess this competency. However, you should certainly consider this when assessing agency performance over time.

What else?

I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to assess when selecting an agency. What would you add?

How To Manage Your Time In A PR Agency

If you work in PR you probably find yourself pulled in myriad directions on a constant basis – especially if you work on the consulting side of the industry. This can be pretty overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the industry. So, I thought you might find it helpful to know a few of the tools I use to keep myself from running around like a headless chicken every day.

This system dragged me back from the brink a while back, at a time when I felt overwhelmed, and I’ve relied on it ever since.

1. Always-accessible to-do list

My to-do list, along with my calendar, is my bible. Everything I do revolves around this. So, I’ve adopted a system that lets me access and update my to-do list wherever I am.

I use Evernote to keep track of my to-dos. I can access it on my BlackBerry, on my iPad, on my laptop and on my home computer. It ensures that, whenever I think of something I need to do, I can capture it.

For each item, I capture several pieces of information:

  1. Project involved
  2. Specific task
  3. Estimated time required to complete the task
  4. Deadline
  5. Priority (I number things from 1-3 – for high/medium/low)

This becomes the basis of how I schedule my week and prioritize my tasks.

Power tip: Set up a notebook in Evernote just for to-do items, and just flip a quick email to your account to capture items in that notebook when you only have a couple of seconds. Then, when you have a few moments later, you can go back through those items and add them to your master to-do list.

2. Plan out the week

At the beginning of each weekI  I review my to-do list and my calendar as it stands to identify how I need to allocate my time for each day that week. So, if I have four hours of meetings one day, I know I have four hours to work with. I then work through my to-do list in order of priority, and assign tasks to a day.

I use a simple spreadsheet to accomplish this (thanks to Andrea Pietkiewicz who introduced me to this), with tasks down the left-hand side and days of the week across the top. In the middle I enter the hours required for the various meetings and tasks I need to accommodate. At the bottom I have a total so I can see how many hours of work I’ve scheduled for each day.

Mon Tues Weds Thurs Fri
Task 1
Task 2
Task 3
Total

I have an hour blocked off at the beginning of each week for this process.

3. Defensive scheduling

I now know what I need to do, when I need to do it and how long it will take. The next step is to defensively block-off my calendar. I add every task to my calendar as an appointment, for several reasons:

  1. Because “the work” takes time to do
  2. Because other people will fill the day with meetings if I don’t
  3. Because it helps me to track how I use my time

4. Constantly adjust

The process doesn’t end at the beginning of the week, of course. Things change – tasks take longer than planned; work arises unexpectedly and new meetings are scheduled. I constantly update my calendar as priorities shift during the week. If an item needs to be scheduled, it goes into the to-do list. If it needs to happen in the current week then it goes into the calendar immediately; if the work needs to happen in the future then I have a little more time to schedule it in later.

The beauty of this approach is two-fold:

  1. You know what needs to move to accommodate change. You need three hours for an urgent request from your boss? You know what needs to be pushed and the effect it will have later on in the week.
  2. You have a system for prioritizing your decisions. When someone comes to you with a last-minute task or meeting request, you have a clear list of tasks to which you can compare and prioritize it. Is it more important than Task 2? No? Then can it wait?

Your mileage may vary

I adopted this system in response to a time when I dealt with hundreds of emails and 5 or 6 hours of meetings daily in addition to my “regular work,” and industry events several nights per week. It worked for me, and the way I work. It may or may not work for you.

What systems do you use to manage your time?

(Image: Shutterstock)

Confidentiality And Agency Life

As you may know, I’ve recently begun a new job at a new agency (Edelman, for the record).

In doing so, I moved to an agency that represents competitors of past clients.

While I’ve taken this in my stride, several people have now raised questions about confidentiality with me – enough that I think it’s worth addressing at a broader level.

As an ‘agency guy’ you’re privy to all sorts of plans, strategies and future-focused documents that your clients trust you to keep confidential. Other companies would love to get their hands on those documents, or even to just learn the general plans of their competition. A lot is riding on the integrity of everyone who comes into contact with those plans.

At the same time, it’s completely normal for people who move to a new job to find themselves at a company either competing with their previous employer, or servicing a competitor. As I’ve written before, PR is a small world, and the odds are reasonable that the situation could arise.

I completely understand how any company could be anxious about someone leaving when they’ve seen to high-level plans – whether it’s a company employee or an agency team member. However, I’d make several points to those who are concerned:

  • Companies typically ask new employees to sign confidentiality agreements. Those agreements usually stand beyond the end of an employee’s work at those companies.
  • Companies trust the integrity of people to handle their plans while they work for them. That trust shouldn’t disappear as soon as a person moves on.
  • Your primary asset in the public relations business is your integrity and reputation. Lose that, and you’ve got little left.

For me, this last point is critical.

I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t unscrupulous people out there who violate the trust of their ex-employers (hell, some people do it while they still work for companies). For me, though, I’ll categorically state that my reputation is worth way more to me than one or two quick wins.

In a business where one indiscretion can lost you a reputation that took a decade to build, your career will benefit much more if you play the long-term game and respect the confidentiality of your clients long after you cease working with them.

Have you encountered confidentiality questions when you’ve changed jobs? How have you addressed them?

(Image: Shutterstock)

When Agencies Can’t Be Transparent

When approaching clients on objectives to begin social media, agencies focus on three overarching areas: consumer trust, brand engagement and transparency. Is this the approach of all agencies? No, but it can be a starting point to figure out specific end goals. Transparency can come in a few forms: the form of humanizing the brand; the form of understanding the consumer and responding; or the form of disclosing sensitive information.

But, what happens when you can’t be transparent?

The agency / client dynamic is one that varies, dependent on the brand. Agencies can be completely different than in-house PR. Some utilize their agency as a partner; while others utilize their agency as a tool. The difference lies in the fact that there is trust and disclosure with a partner, and often times, they are brought into high level discussions.

Think of your own Twitter stream. Think of what you do behind the scenes at work. Is that knowledge the same as the impression you relay on social mediums? Brands operate in the same way. There are instances and circumstances where their hands are tied. It’s not just public relations involved in social media, but the C-Suite, Legal team, customer service and more. All groups have opinions, regulations and people to answer to.

Those circumstances are never relayed, with only the facts conveyed. In crisis communications exercises in journalism school, we were taught to share only important and straight to the point facts with the public. Why, then, do we throw stones at companies and critique their responses? Should we further investigate the how of the situation, instead of jumping to the ‘Why’ so quickly?

Agencies have the double edge sword – they have pressure from their own higher-ups to execute the scenario correctly, while also answering to a client. In this world where consumers want brands to be as open as possible, it’s quite true that expectations can be set too high when an actual business comes into play. When an actual crisis happens, many tend to focus on one key area without exploring others.

Is there a point where you step back and realize the client has to make the decision, and go with it? Or do you continue to bridge your case? Is it fair to throw stones when we don’t know the situation?

Let’s discuss.

Photo credit: W Promote

This guest post was written by Lauren Fernandez, Agency Community Manager for Radian6. She blogs at LAF, is on Twitter @cubanalaf and has an insane love for the Green Bay Packers.

Coordinate Multiple Twitter Accounts With CoTweet

CoTweet LogoIf you work on a multi-person social media team, you’ve likely encountered issues coordinating responses to online conversations. You’ll spot a mention of your company and reply to it, only to find that another one of your colleagues has already replied, or that there was a reason they hadn’t done so.

Tools like Radian6 accommodate built-in workflow management to help teams to coordinate interactions across multiple platforms. However, they have their shortfalls.

Now we have a new kid on the block. CoTweet, which bills itself as “a platform that helps companies reach and engage customers using Twitter,” is a solution for companies managing teams of employees across multiple Twitter accounts.

I participated in CoTweet’s closed beta testing period, but it recently emerged into open beta meaning you can sign-up and try it yourself.

Some of CoTweet’s key features:

  • Multiple accounts – nothing that tools like TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop don’t already offer, but a must-have nowadays for large companies and agency types/power-users like me who need to juggle several profiles.
  • Multiple users – CoTweet lets you invite multiple users to Tweet from an account. You can coordinate who’s “on duty” at any time, and assign tweets to other users (which triggers a notification email).
  • Conversation threads – one short-coming of some other systems is that they don’t allow for threading of conversations over time. CoTweet rectifies that, allowing you to see conversations between your team and any person over time, see which tweets have been replied-to and ensure you don’t contradict an earlier response from a team-mate.
  • Integration with bit.ly – TweetDeck and the like let you use bit.ly to shorten URLs and an even link them to your bit.ly account, but CoTweet integrates the analytics from bit.ly into its interface.
  • Web-based – while I have no problem with downloadable clients, there are plenty of people around who don’t have that luxury thanks to restrictive IT policies. CoTweet is browser-based, so there’s nothing to install.
  • Cotags - CoTweet defines Cotags as “short signatures that allow you to identify yourself as part of a message while sharing an account with multiple people.” It provides transparency as to who is tweeting when multiple people could be posting. We’ve manually entered “[initials]” for our clients in the past; CoTweets lets you automate that so you never forget.
  • Persistent search – TweetDeck’s key feature early-on was its integration of persistent searches into your interface. While CoTweet doesn’t quite do that (you need to go to a search screen), it does provide persistent searches that are fully integrated into the interface.

Overall, CoTweet is a powerful new tool for companies managing multiple Twitter accounts and users.

What are your early impressions of the service? What stands out for you, and what would you change?

Is This Your Agency/Client Relationship?

On a lighter-than-usual note: Agency folks, does this video seem familiar?

Fortunately, we’re blessed with clients who aren’t like this.

Hat tip to Todd Defren.

The Fees Debate – Time, Value or Performance?

What’s the “best” fee structure system for public relations agencies?

A little while after starting my consulting career at Thornley Fallis Communications, I had an interesting conversation with Terry Fallis about the pros and cons of the different ways agencies charge fees. Several months later, I had a similar conversation with Joe Thornley as I continued to try to get my head around it.

Both conversations ended, after a while, with the same question from each: “do you have a better system?”

I don’t. I’m not an “expert” on this topic. So, while I’ve thought about the ups and downs of several systems, this is one post that I really hope sparks your thoughts and contributions.

Time-based

The time-based fees model calculates the cost of an activity using an hourly rate and multiplying that by the time needed to conduct an activity.

There are some obvious advantages to this system:

  • Accountability is built into the system – the client pays for the time expended. The agency can’t just stick its finger in the air and pick a cost to charge;
  • Agencies can generally provide fairly close estimates as to the actual budget needed for an activity;
  • There’s less risk to the agency from scope creep – if the client asks for more, they pay more;
  • If an activity takes less time than expected, the client pays less;
  • When on a retainer, the client is assured that consistent effort is expended on their behalf each month.

However, I can see some disadvantages:

  • There’s no reward for efficiency – if you’ve budgeted three hours to draft a news release and it only takes 90 minutes, there’s no incentive to stop working at that point (of course, you would hope that the client would recognize that efficiency and reward the agency with loyalty over time);
  • If something unexpected happens and an activity takes longer than expected, the agency may have to have an awkward conversation with the client to increase the budget, or may have to write-down some of their time;
  • This mechanism can often understate the value of the services the agency provides;
  • Some activities, especially time-consuming ones (and social media, in particular, is time-consuming), can be difficult to justify on a per-hour basis.

Value-based

The other main alternative is a value-based system. You want your agency to prepare a news release? That’ll be X thousand dollars. You want media training? That’ll be Y thousand.

The advantages to this system:

  • Certainty for both sides on the budget, which makes accounting easier on both ends;
  • Efficiency is rewarded – if you can produce a high-quality product in a shorter amount of time than expected, the mark-up is greater;
  • For the agency, it offers the potential to mark-up work considerably;
  • The client pays for the value of what’s produced. Perhaps your media training may only take a morning to conduct, but its value is such that you can charge for more than four hours’ work.

The disadvantages to value-based billing:

  • If the work takes longer than expected, the agency is stuck footing the bill;
  • From a client perspective, they may pay for a high mark-up on agency work.

Performance-based

Some agencies may charge clients based on a percentage of the “value obtained” over a period. For example, if you achieve media coverage valued at $50,000, you might charge 10 per cent of that value ($5,000). 

Advantages of this approach:

  • Clients pay for what they receive – if you don’t deliver results, they don’t pay;
  • While any good agency encourages best practices, they are perhaps most essential in this system – without well-conducted campaigns, you won’t see results and you won’t get paid;
  • The system inherently rewards good results.

Disadvantages:

  • The systems available for calculating the “value” of media coverage (e.g. ad equivalency) are woefully inadequate and arbitrary;
  • Both client and agency have zero certainty on the budget;
  • The system has no means for measuring the value of social media or digital activities – it is primarily focused on traditional media relations.

As I said earlier, I’m not an expert on these systems. I’ve done some reading around them and I’ve talked to a few experienced practitioners, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially if you’ve been in the agency business for a while.

What do you think – is there an optimal way for agencies to charge fees?

MSNBC vs. AIG’s Public Relations Agencies

If you didn’t catch it, last week MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow tore a strip off AIG for having a “list” of PR firms on its roster. As Maddow put it, “We’re paying the bill for PR firms to spin us?”

Here’s the clip:

As juicy as this clip is, I do feel the need to point out a few things about the AIG rant:

  1. Even if AIG is now largely government-sponsored, it is still in business. For the company to remain that way, it needs to attract customers. Public relations, along with a long list of other business functions, needs to feed into that.
  2. Public relations firms do more (much more) than just “spin” people. I expect the company’s new owners (Americans) might like to know about changes being made to bring the company out of its predicament. Guess what? That’s PR’s job.
  3. It’s unlikely (although possible) that AIG’s “list” of firms is doubling-up. Maddow’s melodramatic reaction makes it seem as though AIG is paying several firms to do the same work. It’s much more likely that they each have their designated areas on which to focus.

It’s not surprising that people react this way to AIG’s activities. Reputation is built on trust. When, on repeated occasions, you accept public money (over $150bn to date) then send employees on expensive getaways, your trust is shot. At this point, no-one trusts anything that AIG does.

What do you think about this, and how would you respond if you were AIG?

(Maddow also mentions PR agency Burson-Marsteller, reeling-off a laundry list of some of the agency’s clients and saying “When evil needs public relations, evil has Burson Marsteller on speed dial.” Disclosure: Burson-Marsteller is the parent company of National Public Relations, a competitor to my employer Thornley Fallis. We’re also starting to work with an insurance company that I can’t name yet – however, its products don’t compete with AIG in Canada)

How Will You Grow Today?

RIP Today Since starting my new position at Thornley Fallis Communications recently, I’ve experienced a new kind of pressure – that of accounting for all the time I spend at work.

I’m adjusting to that new pressure pretty well so far and finding that it keeps me accountable to myself as well as to the company.

As I don’t have a large number of clients right now, though, it often leads me to wonder:

“How have I grown today?”

What have I done to advance myself? To move further ahead, personally and/or professionally? Today is almost over; I won’t get to live it again. Have I spent today wisely, or have I thrown it away?

  • Did I land a new client?
  • Did I pull out the stops and advance my career?
  • Did I help out a colleague or friend when they needed help?
  • Did I make a new connection that will improve my life professionally, personally, or both?
  • Did I strengthen an existing connection?
  • Did I learn something that will help me in the future?
  • Did I improve my abilities at something, at work or outside?

I’ve lived my life with this in mind for a long time. That’s probably why I enjoy being busy at work, why I’m dedicated to my running and why a friend once gave me a book, which sits in my office to this day, entitled “You Know You’re A Workaholic When…” I guess I just think about it more now.

What about you? How will you grow today?