EDITORIAL: Service, not just strategy, is what global clients are increasingly seeking from their PR counsel

Hill & Knowlton's global CEO Paul Taaffe, who is taking part in a panel on "the state of the business" at the ICCO Summit in Berlin this October, has some very definitive thoughts about the challenges facing international PR agencies. "As large companies attempt to reduce the costs of their global communications programs, there's an increasingly aggressive procurement process," he says. "At the same time, they are looking more and more for senior counsel."

Hill & Knowlton's global CEO Paul Taaffe, who is taking part in a panel on "the state of the business" at the ICCO Summit in Berlin this October, has some very definitive thoughts about the challenges facing international PR agencies. "As large companies attempt to reduce the costs of their global communications programs, there's an increasingly aggressive procurement process," he says. "At the same time, they are looking more and more for senior counsel."

Not, he adds, necessarily on the strategic side, but experienced professionals who have actually implemented global programs. Too often, Taaffe believes, the term "senior counsel" is interpreted to mean "strategic." What it often means, at least to the client, is "seasoned," particularly in the fine art of getting things done. One of the themes of last month's PRWeek feature which looked at the global market was that execution is the key to success in global accounts. Having the right infrastructure and technological tools were cited as crucial, but we did not really touch on the question of how to ensure that experienced practitioners will make it happen. Taaffe, in a sort of "emperor's new clothes" kind of way, has identified PR's greatest strength, and potentially greatest vulnerability - that it takes people who know how to connect the dots around the world to really drive client satisfaction. It's an area of vulnerability because everyone knows it is not always easy to find great people. I wonder if, in our collective zeal to position the PR industry at the highest strategic level, we are diminishing the tactical foundation that is most apparent to clients, and senior management. Do we minimize the contributions of those who are great at the tactical side by disproportionately lionizing the strategic counselors (whose numbers, let's face it, are comparatively few)? If so, truly senior counselors who excel at implementation will flee PR, and who could blame them? PR agency people, so careful with the words of their clients, should be equally cautious about how they extol the merits of the profession. It's not all about whispering in the ear of the CEO. Knowing how to coordinate consistent delivery of service around the world is what keeps clients loyal. Recall is only exacerbating CA's PR woes How will California do once the recall is over? Whatever one thinks of Gov. Gray Davis, you simply can't observe the current frenzy without recognizing that the state, already perceived as a hotbed of kooks, is in dire straits, in terms of both its budget and its reputation. The former will be just as hard to repair as the latter. Corporations headquartered in California, or those considering locating there, may be rethinking the wisdom of being saddled to a state that would find itself in such a precarious position. Talent looking to move to the region could be put off by the antics of the would-be governors crawling out of the woodwork, seeking their 15 minutes of fame for the low, low price of a $3,500 fee to enter the race. The morning shows, desperate in a summer news season, are giving the whole mess a lot of play. Will the next governor have budget for PR advice to recover from this situation? I doubt it.

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