Tech savvy is becoming a client-service staple

As technology continues to develop and impact the way we live, it's also redefining PR agencies' approach to client service.

As technology continues to develop and impact the way we live, it's also redefining PR agencies' approach to client service.

"Every year, we have to step up our game," says Stacey Johnes, cofounder of entertainment and lifestyle firm Media Tonic. "First it was e-mail. Then it evolved into IM with clients. We [must] provide a timely response whether we're in or out of office, state, or country."

Such communications tools give Johnes a sense of freedom; she says they allow her to go to client events and still respond to other issues in "real time." However, she notes, firms are responsible for keeping up with the latest technology.

"In the tech industry, I dealt with [technologically] sophisticated clients and was expected to invest in the same technology they used," says Johnes, who has a background in consumer-tech PR. But with a less tech-savvy client, the agency should initiate the lesson.

"With social networking, [we might have to explain] this is why you should be on a site," she says, "versus talking to consumers directly or using a press release."

In her role as VP at Groundswell Communications, Juli-anne Whitney oversees numerous political and public affairs accounts. She says new technologies play a huge role in effectively communicating campaign results with clients.

"Maybe 15 years ago, if you presented to the client about an e-mail campaign, they would look at you sideways," she says. "Now it's all about being able to talk to your client about what's new, what's been tested, and what's going to work."

Julianna Richter, EVP and global client relationship manager at Edelman, says her clients, too, are thirsty for knowledge about interactive technologies.

"Clients are saying, 'We want to learn about the new social media or new media technologies,'" she notes. "We are helping to lead that, not only bringing in experts who are doing it in the online world for online companies, but saying how those applications are working in different sectors... We're setting up task forces with clients, piloting things on our end, and sharing the results with multiple clients."

One way technology has enabled some of Edelman's pharma clients to efficiently share results - in real time - is via electronic communities, e-rooms, and online dashboards in which users can access a shared site and set of documents.

Because the industry is very regulated, Richter notes, "this is an easy way to make sure that, on all sides, we're working off the same script."

Still, she says, in a practice within a global network, it's important to maintain cultural awareness.

"In the US, it's more acceptable to maintain a portion of your relationship and business online," adds Richter. "When you go outside the US... it's much more about picking up the phone."

Even though some agency executives may have to fight the temptation to overuse new technologies, they should continue to recognize their expanding client service, says Media Tonic's Johnes.

"We need to keep ourselves educated and exploring," she emphasizes. "CEOs of the next decade will bring new technology with them."

Key points:

Incorporating new technologies can greatly impact client-service efficiency

Firms are responsible for keeping up with new-tech trends; for less tech-savvy clients, PR execs should initiate conversation

New technologies aren't effective unless partnered with solid comms skills

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