Gini Dietrich

What PR Firms are Missing: Ideas

By: Gini Dietrich | June 10, 2013 | 

What PR Firms are Missing- IdeasYesterday I had the distinct pleasure of (finally) meeting Scott Baradell (and his gorgeous wife) in person.

Scott is the founder of Idea Grove, an inbound, marketing, and PR firm based in Dallas.

As entrepreneurs do, particularly when they are in similar businesses, we spent a couple of hours sharing our challenges and issues and discussing best practices.

We started talking about how we started our businesses (both in 2005) and I made mention of the fact that if I were to do it again, I would not put my name on the door.

Naming Your Company

I did it, of course, because I have high, high aspirations and all of the big firms have two names on their door: FleishmanHillard, Golin-Harris, Weber Shandwick, etc.

But now? Now I’d consider something more appropriate like, I don’t know…Spin Sucks?

That conversation took us to how he named his firm Idea Grove, which brings me to the topic of this blog post.

He is a corporate communications guy. I am an agency person. It makes sense I would look to the big, global PR firms to name my own company.

But he looked at what he thought PR firms are missing when, as a client, he hired them: Ideas.

What PR Firms are Missing

He said PR firms seem to be more interested in reputation management and presenting themselves as very buttoned-up and almost lawyer-like…even down to the names on the doors.

Hence the name Idea Grove.

This isn’t a surprise; we’ve talked many times here about how PR professionals need to be more creative and take some risk in providing new and interesting ideas to clients every day (or  at least every week).

But when he put it like that, and said advertising agencies and web design firms always come up with new ideas and present them to the clients, but PR firms are missing that one little piece, I began to think about how right he is and what we need to do to change that.

I’d like to think Arment Dietrich does a good job of that already. We do tend to stay ahead of the trends and offer solutions to clients as we think they’re appropriate. But I wonder how much of that is me thinking we do it versus what is really done?

A Challenge For You

It brings me to one of my big initiatives this year, which is to put process and procedure into place so these things are happening without my micromanaging them (which I’m really terrible at doing). Now I’ll be sure giving ideas to clients every week is part of that…and that we’re thinking big and taking some risk and getting beyond the scope of work (heck, isn’t that what drives organic growth?).

But it brings up a good question. How many of you are doing the status quo, providing counsel on the things you’ve been hired to do, but never look at something and think, “Huh. I’ll bet that could work for X, Y, Z client.”?

Some are very good at finding articles their clients might like and forwarding them on, but does it go much further than that?

Of course, it means the client has to be willing to let you take some risk and try out the idea…and fail if that’s what it means without firing you.

Why not try?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Completely agree ginidietrich . I think this applies to all firms beyond PR. If you are able to approach your client with an idea, relevant article, connection etc, it puts you in a position to be viewed differently by them. When you move from a vendor or service provider to a strategic partner that has their best interests at heart, you win big time. We’re finding that some of these opportunities don’t immediately hit our bottom line, but strengthen the relationship in the long term and bring in more dollars that way.

    • katskrieger Totally! Organic growth…and it’s so much easier to do that than to find new clients.

      • ginidietrich katskrieger aka…. do ya wanna play rocanroll or do you want to make tracks for supermarket radio

  • what katskrieger said… her comment is so much better than what mine would have been so I’m going to be an example of what not being creative looks like.

    • TonyBennett So are you saying you have nothing creative to add to this? You’re going to love my blog post for tomorrow. It’s your thing.

      • I think I was quite creatively uncreative there, thank you very much!! Looking forward to tomorrow’s post 🙂

  • Looking outside my wheelhouse means the difference between being treated as a vendor/service provider (ick) and a strategic partner/trusted confidante.

    • jasonkonopinski Yep! Exactly what katskrieger said too.

  • ScottBaradell

    Woohoo, I made Spin Sucks! 🙂  It was wonderful to meet IRL, Gini.  Let’s make sure to do it again soon.

    • ScottBaradell I may be calling you this week…you made me think of something.

      • ginidietrich ScottBaradell great you got her loaded Scott so she had no idea what or who she was blogging about. Just what we needed here. 8)

  • Um, it’s X, Y, ZED.

    • belllindsay I almost put that in parenthesis! LOL!!

      • ginidietrich HAHA!! Canadian World Domination!

        • belllindsay ginidietrich 
          “Whose motorcycle is this?”
          “It’s not a motorcycle, baby. It’s a chopper.”
          “Whose chopper is this?”
          “Who’s Zed?”
          “Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.”

    • belllindsay Way back in the summer of ’90 when I hung out north of Toronto I kept hearing about zed and people talking about mums and bums.
      My American ears kept thinking someone was talking about some hobo named Zed but I couldn’t figure out how Zed was connected to mothers,

      • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Even hobos have mums, Josh.

    • belllindsay My husband sings ZED loudly over the end of every American toy or TV show that sings the alphabet song. He’s very concerned that Amelia learns the proper pronunciation. LOL

      • Kato42 ginidietrich always laughs at me when I say it! 😉

  • Two (unrelated, imagine that) thoughts on this. First, the book I am currently editing has a character (a police investigator) using “brainstorming software.” When I picture brainstorming, I always picture a room full of people, a flip chart, markers, and little color coded postits to do ranking with after sharing a flood of ideas. Brainstorming software is probably old news to most, but I love the idea of being able to put completely diverse ideas in their own circles and get some tech help in finding the connections between the circles. In the case of introducing ideas, it WOULD be nice to be able to share new/novel ideas with your client, even if the mutual understanding is that the initial step is just to let the ideas see the light of day and germinate.
    Secondly, from my perspective as an administrator at a non profit who has been on the “client” end of the PR relationship, I think there’s a fine balance between wowing your client with new, cool, ideas and taking care of an aspect of the business that has to get done so the non profit can do the part it does best: run their organization/provide their service. Meaning that at the beginning of the relationship it may make sense to let them know your approach of including some ideas for consideration along the way. And then ….. timing is key ….. if they’re in the weeds of doing what they do, save the amazing ideas and support them as they hunker down.

    • photo chris

      biggreenpen I miss ALL the cool stuff…what is brainstorming software?

      • photo chris biggreenpen Well, it’s EITHER a figment of my author’s imagination (in which case I may have a different issue on my hands) or …… I think it’s something like the “Edraw Mind Map”:;productListing;pop (The detective keeps pulling out his iPad or whatever and adding new “circles” when he encounters a clue and eventually the relationships/evidence/etc may or may not prove to have relationships with each other). If anyone else has used this please chime in. I like figments of  imagination (and Lord knows there are plenty) but I think this sounds kinda cool and would love to hear from someone who has used it).

        • photo chris

          biggreenpen photo chris thanks! Though circles are mentioned…I can’t…um, DO circles. Can’t. Something about using them BEFORE deciding what goes together shorts out my brain and stops creativity before it even starts.  When I’m stuck entirely, I free write. Then talk about things and write more senseless things and the categories take shape. Then I write for those categories and when things start to take a SHAPE, I circle them and link them together.

        • photo chris biggreenpen that makes sense to me!

  • Refreshing!

  • Ideas seem to be impacted by inertia, fear of being “exposed” and the feeling that you just don’t have time to work on putting something new together.

  • PattiRoseKnight1

    Of all the people I’ve met in my career you are hands down the one who hates mico-managing. You know it was hard for me at first to feel empowered at times to make a decision vs. waiting for you. I’m getting better about it but it took a bit of time.

    • PattiRoseKnight1 Ha! I do hate it…and I’m not good at it. Plus, I hate to be micromanaged so I figure why not treat everyone like adults.

      • photo chris

        ginidietrich PattiRoseKnight1  would you mind terribly being cloned?

        • photo chris ginidietrich PattiRoseKnight1 Jumping in here – I would like a Gini clone too, although I’m fairly certain there are already several, seeing as how much she gets done in 24 hours. I think Yvette might be one of those clones 🙂

        • photo chris

          Cision NA photo chris ginidietrich PattiRoseKnight1 ahhhhhhh, THAT explains why everyone at SpingSucks, er, Spin Sucks, Er, Arment Dietrich is SO SMART!

  • Love the subject of creativity. Our marcom team considers each department in our organization a “client.” Yes, they want us to be creative, but I often find clients like the IDEA of creativity more than implementing the new thing. What if we change the messaging, look, color, [fill in the blank], and our numbers, funding, prospects, [fill in the blank] drop? Some risk is involved in putting forth a creative/innovative idea as well as in implementing it.

  • susancellura

    Here’s what caught my eye:  “How many of you are doing the status quo, providing counsel on the things you’ve been hired to do, but never look at something and think, “Huh. I’ll bet that could work for X, Y, Z client.”?”.  To me, that has been a strength that I have brought to the table at any company I’ve worked for in my career. Various businesses in one department worked in silos and my motto, so to speak, was that I was in the catbird seat and could see how one project would benefit several of the businesses at the same time. Once they listened — and yes, that did happen  from time to time – – the personal joy combined with the success of the project, just always made me do the happy dance. A focused solution, less money spent, the right money spent on the right things, messaging to benefit all parties involved, the rewards for the bottom line…well, let’s just say I was always proud!!!
    The irony of today, though? I work in a younger marketing communication department and they don’t seem to get the “catbird seat” idea. Maybe they don’t know that term? Hmmmm….

  • Does this involve adding more hours to the week? Because if we had more time, (I hope) more of us would be willing to come up with new ideas for the client. But as it stands right now, we spend all 40 (lol) billable hours in a week getting through the work that needs to be done. We don’t have the energy to come up with new ideas that could give us more work to do.
    One of my big beefs with idea generation is that most of them are the result of agency wide brainstorms, which then get presented to the client. And they go nowhere. It seems like good ideas are merely in place to show the client we are smart, but nothing comes of them.
    “You had great ideas, so here’s my business. Now keep the status quo because I don’t want to rock the boat.”

    • bradmarley I see where you’re coming from, lord knows I’ve been in enough meetings where everyone said “wow that’d be great but that’s your problem”
      But I also reject the concept. How many of those 40 hours are spent on truly creative endeavors? I think we have a responsibility to stop staring at our computer screens and admit that we get our best work done in short bursts. If this means less billable hours, than charge more for them.

  • ayms219

    Awesome post!
    This is something we talk about daily where I work. Being an internal Communications team within a larger company, we are trying to figure out how to go from order takers to being more strategic and getting at the table with clients early enough to recommend different ways of approaching their objectives. It’s impossible to do this when you’re contacted today and asked to put together some FAQs due yesterday when you have no concept of the overall scope of their work.
    But, it is imperative that we do become idea generators. We are not just order takers and no matter how skilled we are we won’t be doing justice to the client’s business if we’re not contributing something original. We are coming from different perspectives than they are and that can be valuable.

  • An intriguing post, Gini. Ideas are the hardest part of our business, I think.
    “How many of you … never look at something and think,
    “Huh. I’ll bet that could work for X, Y, Z client.”
    Sometimes I think that’s kind of all I do. Most
    of my innovations, such as they are, come from just doing lots of
    different things, personally and professionally, and then transporting
    or tweaking an idea from one part of my experience into another. 
    from scratch are hellacious for me – naming a company? Yikes! I had to
    read every baby name book in existence before we chose my daughter’s
    name and in the end we went with an old (but beautiful) name.
    the trick of transporting & tweaking ideas generates some pretty
    fantastic stuff even if it isn’t completely “new”. In fact, it’s one of
    the reasons I recently took on a gig helping out with a Public Culture
    master’s-level course… so I could learn from the students 🙂 (I even blogged about it:
    I think there’s a misconception that only artists can be truly creative. Really, all you need are a lot of different ideas and the situational awareness to apply them in new ways. it’s more like being MacGyver than Michelangelo.

    • photo chris

      Kato42 I have to laugh at naming…we were GOING HOME and the nurses that morning were like, “errrr, any final names yet for baby?”

  • I find that while ideas are demanded, often they do not get acted upon once the client realizes there is time, effort, and usually resources needed (often both financial and physical). But your ideas are what has the biggest value if they are good.

    • photo chris

      Howie Goldfarb Goldfish!!!! .Howie, it’s the Goldfish Mentality. I deal with this ALL THE TIME. My boss LOVES my ideas but, wait, oh, they will take you TIME to develop? It may cost a bit of MONEY? Ahh, well, that was lovely…I’ll “put it on the list.”

      • photo chris Howie Goldfarb And you know what, that costs your boss in the long run. Big time.

        • photo chris

          JoeCardillo photo chris Howie Goldfarb I know this. You know this. But unless I can get my hands on that ever elusive crystal ball and SHOW HIM, I don’t know what else to do. My friends keep telling me, “you can’t fix crazy,” but I really do hate quitting anything.

        • photo chris JoeCardillo Howie Goldfarb I hear ya, the problem is not actually the data, it’s the lack of vision =

  • I love this post – we all get so busy with self promotion and spurting out our own thoughts (myself included), that I think we often fry the creativity right out of ourselves.  No time to just BE, and get inspired, and then CREATE.  A while back @DannyBrown (yes, even I am sick of saying how brilliant he is) post this on our Friday Finds  
    I go back to it again and again for a reminder.

  • photo chris

    um, I actually DO think of your company as Spin Sucks! LOL I always forget that it has a “different” name. Also, love the pic for the post!

    • photo chris Dangit. Me too. Sorry Gini…

  • To answer your question, I do. I think this is a bit of a generalization to apply to “PR firms” in general. The bigger ones do tend to be cookie cutter, but I know of several smaller firms and, er, consultants, that (who?) are very creative, and constantly coming up with ideas. I agree that there is a perception that PR firms aren’t creative, but look at the pitches the good ones are constantly coming up with. That’s creativity.

  • Great post and discussion here, Gini! I love how you challenge us to think. Sometimes in day-to-day work we forget to sit back and do that!
    PR may have been a little more ‘conservative’ than its counterparts throughout the years, but with the convergence of media, it seems to be transitioning to the ‘creative’ side more than ever. I think PR has always been creative, perhaps just in different ways than an advertising firm. Instead of thinking of images and art, we may think of creative headlines or subjects to attract media placement. Instead of catchy taglines, PR may develop an integrated marketing plan or email campaign. It’s more behind-the-scenes, if you will.
    Edelman wrote about this topic in February when they hired a global chair of creative strategy, Jackie Cooper. They asked the same question, ‘Why Not Us.’
    It will be interesting to see how this will play out & if it will add one more diverse duty to the growing PR skill set.

  • sherrickmark

    Its definitely not just PR firms that are missing ideas, its much more widespread than that. What we have now though, is a lack of “idea people”, we instead have “that guy who works in accounting but is also kind of creative”.  Nobody just does their one thing anymore. Multitasking is taking over and has been slowly doing so for quite a while.
    I remember working as an intern for the Director Of Corporate Advertising for the local Clear Channel summer ampitheatre when I was in college and getting school credit. Part of my job was to WALK AROUND THE VENUE AND FIND UNUSED SPACE. Because of me, the rolling trash bins at that venue STILL have ad space on them, 12 years later. Because of my coworker, they expanded the spotlights and projected company logos on the outside walls after dark.
    Nobody does that anymore. I kept in touch with my old boss ( still do via FB, even) and that job changed so much that she left because it wasn’t anywhere near the job she got hired for, and the creativity got sucked out of it.

  • A couple comments… first… remind me sometime to tell you how T60 got its name. 🙂 Second… I think all businesses need to be looking out for their clients in ways beyond their contract agreement.
    One of the things I take pride in is helping clients understand their story. We do a lot of videos where a client has a “vision” for what their story should be about. It would be easy to simply execute their vision for their video.  The problem is many of the people who generate that idea don’t have the storytelling experience we do.
    When I hear an idea for a video that I don’t think is going to connect with audiences, I feel like it’s my obligation to speak-up and offer an alternative.  In those cases, I’m not contractually obligated, but I want what’s best for my client… not to just do what I’m being paid to do.
    –Tony Gnau

  • RonellSmith

    Not that your content is EVER off the mark (it’s not), but this post hits home. I’ve often written that many PR firms are risk-averse to deleterious proportions. I get that clients themselves play a huge role in this behavior. But at some point you have to create the necessary space to do the best work, not just the job you were hired for.


    • sbaradell

      RonellSmith Exactly.  Or as Paul Newman told the jailer in Cool Hand Luke, “Calling it your job don’t make it right.”

  • Well that part at the end – it sums up a good client/agency relationship.

    You’re right that firms need to start bringing new ideas. But brands and businesses need to find and connect to an agency they can place their trust in – so that the great ideas can be implemented. I think it’s too easy to say “clients need to trust their agency” because there are legitimate mis-matches that happen between the two and it’s up to the brand to find the agency they can trust, then be bold in that trust. Goodwill – that’s the word I’m looking for!

    • OneJillian and collaboration! Sad how misused that idea really is…

  • Gini!  As you know, I’m trying this whole startup thing. The three major takeaways so far: 
    Prioritization, quick movement, vision space/time
    The reason I mention is that I think great ideas come from cramming in a ton of information & interactions, keeping momentum (a business in motion tends to stay in motion. it’s science, dudes) and, last but not least, giving space and time to breathe. 
    I already know you’re cramming info because, let’s face it, most of us Type As around here just do that anyway. And I know you’re keeping momentum, because SpinSucks is living proof. AND now I know you’re giving yourself (and your team I hope) space and place to think big picture. You are going to have an amazing year.

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