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An Open Letter to PR Professionals

By: Guest | January 3, 2011 | 
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This first ran on Dec. 23, but we are re-running guest posts from the holidays to be sure you didn’t miss them!

Guest post by Doug Davidoff, founder and CEO of Imagine Business Development.

I am not a PR professional. I’ve been exposed to, and used, PR professionals in a variety of ways:

* As the owner of a growth-oriented business,
* As an author and speaker, and
* As a marketing and sales advisor to my clients.

I’ve seen the wonderful things PR people can do. However, there are very few that have earned “a seat at the table” with CEOs and senior executives.

In my experience there are three gaps that PR and social media professionals must bridge if they want a seat at the table and to be treated with the seriousness they deserve:

  1. A focus on process rather than results.
  2. A failure to prioritize.
  3. A lack of integration and alignment.

A Focus on Results

The first challenge I have with PR as a profession is that they are really good at telling me, and others, what they need to do; and they’re really bad at telling us what is the effect of these actions.

Business executives, especially senior ones, are operating with a dearth of attention span. We don’t have the attention span to understand the nuance of process. What we care about are results; and what’s necessary to achieve them.

If you want to be taken seriously in the board rooms of America, start talking about how your recommendations will solve the strategic problems that are preventing critical results from being achieved.

A Failure to Prioritize

PR and social media professionals are great at telling companies what they should be doing. I’ve never met a CEO whose list of things they’d like to be doing, but aren’t, isn’t longer than the list of things they’re doing.

We know we need outreach. Yeah, getting our name in the media is nice. Researching the competition sounds great. But where are we going to get the resources to do what you want us to, and what initiative are we going to take those resources from?

My advice: Less is more. Talk to me (and other executives) about the crucial actions that I should take. Help me understand how I’m going to fund your recommendations – financially and otherwise.

A Lack of Integration and Alignment

My final challenge is that far, far too often PR and social media initiatives take place in a bubble. If you don’t understand how customers are created, revenue is produced and profit is shaped, you can’t earn a seat at the table.

It is your job to bridge this divide – to connect and align PR initiatives with all aspects of the company’s go-to-market strategy. Failure to do so will cause you to be marginalized.

I’m a fan of PR and social media. I truly believe companies can gain tremendous advantages by utilizing the tools you provide. To gain this benefit you need to stop being PR people who support business and become businesspeople who support engagement.

Are you with me?

Doug Davidoff is the founder and CEO of Imagine Business Development in Severna Park, Md. He works with companies desiring fast growth who want to hear the truth about achieving it.

29 comments
EricPudalov
EricPudalov

Excellent advice, Doug...and it's obvious you "walk the walk." Being that I work at a nonprofit, I feel that our organization (and others like us) generally take a different approach to methods of earning revenue (and thusly, marketing as well). The statement that stands out the most to me here is "If you don’t understand how customers are created, revenue is produced and profit is shaped, you can’t earn a seat at the table." A co-worker and I were just talking about how in the case that we lose a client, we personally reach out to win them back on an individual level. We also gain a large percentage of our funding from grants, which, as I'm sure you know, require that the providers feel the cause is worthy. I've been trying to integrate social media into these concepts...do you think I'm on the right track?

thebrandbuilder
thebrandbuilder

Solid post, Doug. You're right. But I have to point out that many of the executives on the client side also have no idea how to integrate PR and SM into their business, tie their activities to specific objectives, or set targets themselves. My advice here, unless you are lucky enough to be working with a PR firm or SM professionals who actually have business management experience (client side), is to not expect the hired specialists to be able to figure this out. I would call on the client side to take the reins here and create the mechanism by which the PR and SM partners (or any external partner, for that matter) is integrated into the business. Let the client dictate the goals and objectives, discuss parameters of measurement, and so on. More often than not, PR pros and SM "pros" (I use the term loosely) are specialists in their own fields and may lack the knowledge and insight needed to fill in the blanks that you bring up. As the client, perhaps... take over that part of the relationship. Don't expect them to anything more than just good PR and SM specialists. Just a thought. ;)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

Doug, as you know, I would have fought you on this a couple of years ago. But after you began pushing me to show results in our proposals, it's been smooth sailing. No more invoice questioning. No more wondering why things aren't happening as quickly as they would like. No more questioning, period. All our clients care about are the results. They don't care how we get them. And, as long as PR pros refuse to work this way (I just reviewed a proposal for a friend and it was all about the process), we'll keep winning.

PabloEdwards
PabloEdwards

I know the exact bubble you are talking about. We need to break out of that bubble and make a bigger impact in new ways.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hey there Doug,

Great post, and some very sensible points that any business professional, agency or consultant could learn from.

One thing that did stand out, though, and a reason I find a lot of client/vendor relationships become strained, is this statement:

"We don’t have the attention span to understand the nuance of process."

While I agree that CEO's and CMO's, etc, are busy people, you (and I say this generically, not at you specifically) have to take some form of personal responsibility when it comes to understanding the process.

Without that understanding, CEO's and the like can (and do) often inhibit what the creative - PR, marketing, advertising - are trying to achieve.

Yes, agencies need to understand business better (many do, thankfully). But it works both ways, and businesses need to understand agencies, and the processes being recommened, better as well.

After all, that's why they were hired in the first place... :)

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Doug, You are preaching to the choir with me. I remind people, clients is that PR and social media is about accomplishing both communications AND business goals. A business won't get anywhere if it doesn't communicate effectively: with vendors, investors, employees and of course, paying customers. Without a seat at the table, if we don't work together to plan how that release and that PR placement will be best used by the sales team, how that blog post can move the needle, etc. ... then yeah, hard to align those marketing communications campaigns with the overall business goals. FWIW.

HerzogIND
HerzogIND

Damn fine post, Doug. Agree. Completely.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Great post Doug! Who needs a PR Pro anyway I have the Twitter! 8)
(just got booted from this site! hehe)

Marketing and PR are very esoteric subjects. Very hard to measure impact with data of substance. It can be done. But often the 'Pros' try to sell this view of trust them it's an art. Too much warm and fuzzy. Why? It protects their billings.

The way I counter this because I have a Sales and OPS background combined with a Finance Degree is simple. The CFO and CEO allocate resources based on what makes them the most money. Every other discipline in the company is highly measurable. Ask the CEO/CFO if they have reduced the transaction error rate, inventory turn over, manufacturing time per unit etc they will rattle off numbers. Ask them what their return or measurement is on PR or Marketing and often you get a 'I think it is helping' or 'We have really smart people handling this for us'.

Simplifying things goes a long way to ensuring when budgets are made your value is known. PR is an art too especially for crisis management. But new tools do allow measurement of where you are covered in the news and listening data. It's not as hard to connect the dots in ways the top managers can relate to and have buy in.

Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff

@thebrandbuilder I agree that many, many times the "fault" if you will is on the client's part. I'd also agree that it is rare that the client has the expertise needed to understand the integration.

That said, if the PR/SM or whatever, takes the specialist role and doesn't develop the business acument to be what I call a business person who support PR/SM or whatever, they cannot expect to regularly earn a seat at the executive table and, going forward, will find their ability to drive value (for both the client and themselves) to be severely limited.

Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff

@HerzogIND @ginidietrich @thebrandbuilder I deal with this all the time with the salespeople we coach and lead. They want, no - correct that, they need a seat at the table and they keep blaming the client "for not understanding" as the reason they're not getting one.

What I've learned in sales is also probably true for PR - two words make all the difference: Business Acumen. My recommendation is invest in it.

HerzogIND
HerzogIND

@ginidietrich @Doug_Davidoff Ah, but you're wrong...I work for a for-profit! I've just seen it in the best CEO's I've worked with in my philanthropic endeavors. :)

HerzogIND
HerzogIND

@ginidietrich @Doug_Davidoff @thebrandbuilder And with that Gini, you described (insert the field here) why some rise to the top and some don't. How can you (IT, PR, finance, marketing, engineering, etc) get above your siloed expertise to now integrate and drive the organization forward.

And btw, the BEST non-profits and non-profit leaders get this too.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Doug_Davidoff Yeah...I suppose you're right. But I think that is the point @thebrandbuilder is making: Either you understand how a business makes money or you don't. And most PR pros don't...they're really good at their expertise, but not at advising a CEO on how to use communication strategies to build a business. Which is the reason we've never been able to manage to get a seat at the table...as an industry.

Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff

@ginidietrich But you were never REALLY a PR person, you just played one in business. You came to the results approach so naturally that it was what you really were to begin with. (while I did not write this reponse for this purpose, I find it is never a bad idea to kiss up to the moderator :-)).

Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff

@PabloEdwards Yup. The good news is that there is more than enough need to go around. thanks for the comment.

thebrandbuilder
thebrandbuilder

@Danny Brown I agree with Danny: Every time I hear a CMO or CEO joke at the fact that they don't understand "this stuff" and don't really care to, what I hear is an abdication of responsibility. It's like a general scoffing that he doesn't understand how to deploy the latest weapons system and integrate it into a battle plan, or a movie director who scoffs that he doesn't really understand the new digital cameras his crew is using. You cannot be in a strategic leadership position and not know your business. The moment you decide that you no longer care about advancements in your field, the moment you think it's someone else's job to do yours, you've essentially become useless. ;)

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@Danny Brown @Doug_Davidoff I want to comment on Dannys observation. The accountability issue. If your work for a business there is a command structure of who is accountable to who. If you are hired as an outside contractor/service it is not as clear.

I accoutability is key and there needs to be proper delegation of authority. If a big company for example hires a PR firm, but has say a VP of Communications, shame on the CEO for feeling they have to manage PR and not put someone in charge and focus on other things...like turning down $6bil from Groupon ;-)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@Doug_Davidoff I hear you on that, and agree 100% - if content is king on blogs, then context is king in business. Cheers, sir!

Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff

@Danny Brown Danny, thanks for the comment - I'm glad it resonated.

I don't mean to say that we (generically) have no tolerance for process, just very little. What we need is results context. Too often the focus of PR professionals in <b>on</b> process. If I feel understood and I'm confident that we are aligned about the results I have both more tolerance for process - and less need, frankly, to hear about the detail - because my trust in you is much greater.

Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff

@3HatsComm Completely agree with you. My point here is appies not only to PR professionals, but actually anyone who wants "a seat at the table." Keep the focus on results, keep the conversation on the critical points and executive will give you the authority to work on the details with the people in the organization responsible for managing the details. I've found that executives (myself included) have far more attention and patience when the people we're talking with provide greater context around results and why the conversation matters.

If I'm left to figure out why it matters, that's when you lose me.

Thanks.

HerzogIND
HerzogIND

@Doug_Davidoff Now that working with Gini part? That must be difficult.. :-) Seriously, if only more clients were as up-front with their marketing/PR/insert-consultant-here firms as you, we'd have a lot more effective businesses/organizations. Just. Expect. Results.

Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff

@HowieG well said. I'd add that executives - especially CEO level executives - understand that all results don't translate to units and easily measured activities. Let me know what levers it impacts, let me know how it will increase sales or make it easier to make sales and I'll be able to understand your points and allocate the appropriate resources.

Thanks for the thoughts.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@HowieG Haha, Howie, I thought you said "I have the Twitter 8", like some kind of Tarantino gang. D'oh!

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