The Agency Business: Fostering staff loyalty to clients - at the office and at home

In a bid to show allegiance to their clients, many PR agencies mandate that staffers use their clients' products and services at the office, while encouraging them to use them at home, too.

In a bid to show allegiance to their clients, many PR agencies mandate that staffers use their clients' products and services at the office, while encouraging them to use them at home, too.

Do PR firms encourage employees to use clients' products and services - both around the office and in their personal lives? If so, how do they go about that? We're not just talking about winning a new account and having the staff test-drive the goods to better pitch them. We're talking about encouraging - demanding even - that workers use clients' offerings in an everyday sense. Dorothy Crenshaw, president of Stanton Crenshaw Communications in New York, is a big believer in using clients' products. One client is Starbucks, and, yes, that's the only coffee the folks there drink - whether when grabbing some java with other clients, ordering in, or brewing their own. Crenshaw says that a few years ago an employee who wanted milder coffee (and didn't know Starbucks had a variety of strengths) bought a different brand. Her response? "I wrote a memo that said, 'There's no other brand that will be ordered here,'" she says. Crenshaw says she developed this attitude years ago when she was at an agency called Dorf & Stanton. Agency leader Bob Dorf had the embarrassing experience of inviting a liquor-company client to his home and having him see other brands there. "After that he drilled it into us," she says. But Crenshaw says you can only encourage employees along these lines, you can't "legislate." She has another great example: Her agency used to represent Office Depot before it had many Manhattan locations. So employees were buying their supplies from Staples - it had a store right across the street. "I still wrote a memo saying, 'You won't go there,'" Crenshaw says. "I said, 'You have to order [from Office Depot] online and wait a day.'" And now the firm is doing a short-term project for Corporate Express - so it's switched to that office supplier. Rodger Roeser, VP at Justice & Young Public Relations in Cincinnati, has a cautionary tale from about seven years ago, when he worked in-house at NASCAR. The car-racing outfit was meeting with potential sponsors, including Pepsi. "We were in the South, and all soda in the South is called 'Coke,' he says. "When we sat down, the first thing this Pepsi executive was offered from a secretary was a Coke." Dale Bornstein, partner and director of Ketchum's New York office, says the vending machines there stock the wares of client PepsiCo, not Coca-Cola. Roeser says Justice & Young definitely encourages staff to patronize clients. In fact, it just got a new client, payroll firm Paycor - and it switched its own service from Paychex to Paycor. "It's kind of a creepy conflict: 'We're doing your PR and marketing, but we use your competitor,'" he says. For Ronn Torossian, president and CEO of 5W Public Relations in New York, it's also about giving back to clients. "I have a very simple rule: I promise to make my clients more money," he says. "If my employees are spending money on lunches, dinners, and entertaining, I'm not giving that money to a competitor." Similarly, Cheryl Andrews, president of Cheryl Andrews Marketing Communications, a travel PR agency in Miami, says one employee has a daughter getting married in December. The reception is at Miami hotel The Tides, a client. "He deliberately looked at our local client base to see where he could take some business," Andrews says. While it seems no agency codifies this, none seems to go as far as 5W, which has among its clients six restaurants and five hotels in Manhattan. Torossian says 30-employee 5W won't reimburse Manhattan hotel or restaurant charges that aren't from one of those clients. In addition, Torossian says he offers to refund 10% of the cost when employees buy clients' products for personal use (if they spend between $100 and $1,000). For Rhonda Shantz, partner and GM of Porter Novelli Bay Area (its San Francisco and San Jose offices), encouraging this is all about being able to better pitch the clients' offerings. "It's absolutely ingrained that an account team learn and use the products," she says. "A day doesn't go by that I'm not driving down the road using a Plantronics headset, I've got an HP notebook in use all day long, I use a Qualcomm CDMA Wireless card." Clients all. Do clients expect their PR firms and their employees to use their products and services? Some opinions:
  • Dorothy Crenshaw, president of Stanton Crenshaw Communications in New York: "It varies with clients, but I think most do expect it. I think they take it for granted."
  • Rhonda Shantz, partner and GM of Porter Novelli Bay Area: "If they don't see their account teams using their products, they'd ask, 'Can they pitch it as well?'"
  • Rodger Roeser, VP at Justice & Young Public Relations, Cincinnati: "When you're going into [clients] Appearance Plus Dry Cleaners or Graeter's for dessert, the clients appreciate that you're patronizing them."
  • Emmanuel Tchividjian, VP and ethics officer at Ruder Finn in New York: "It's not directly a conflict of interest, but employees should not feel that they're pressured to do such a thing, and I don't think the clients would expect it either."

  • Have you registered with us yet?

    Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

    Register
    Already registered?
    Sign in

    Would you like to post a comment?

    Please Sign in or register.