Crafting a strategy to impress your clients

The battle to convince potential clients that PR is a valuable addition to their consumer marketing efforts may not be over, but companies are responding.

The battle to convince potential clients that PR is a valuable addition to their consumer marketing efforts may not be over, but companies are responding.

And the concept that has most effectively captured their interest is insightfully developed strategy.

"Big consumer companies know they need PR, but may not be sure how it should fit into their marketing mix," says Jeannine O'Malley, principal at Blaze in Santa Monica, CA. To earn - and keep - one's seat at the marketing-discussion table, she says, it's essential "to discover from the very beginning what the client is trying to achieve, then craft a strategic plan around it."

O'Malley says this is especially important when dealing with a product that isn't inherently newsworthy. One former client, she recalls, was a company introducing a new variety of coffee. "It wasn't a new brand, just a product extension," O'Malley says. "We spent a lot of time coming up with ideas to make it news."

Incorporating a survey and an extensive SMT, O'Malley's team designed a campaign positioning the coffee as an affordable, simple luxury. For additional exposure, they partnered the item with similarly targeted "instant pleasures," including high thread-count sheets and home-delivered flowers.

"We ended up getting amazing coverage about a product for which we [initially struggled] to find a compelling hook," she says.

"Agencies like ours are constantly striving to [find] better insights," says Bonnie Goodman, EVP and GM at Hill & Knowlton in LA. "What we're doing better is being seen and respected."

Goodman recalls the not-so-long-ago days when clients asked for "30 big ideas" and infinite cleverness, demanding "everything and the kitchen sink." Now, she says, savvier clients recognize that "it may not always make sense to do a campaign around every single product."

That's where a carefully crafted strategic plan comes in. "Cleverness has to connect back to smarts or clients won't buy it," Goodman says. "It's all about what will make sense and show value."

Niki Ostin, account director in charge of LA-based Clifford Public Relations' corporate entertainment and fashion practice, says that emphasizing PR's value in a marketing plan is critical in establishing a successful agency-client relationship. Clients have budgetary concerns and constraints, she acknowledges, but "you have to spend money in order to get ROI. Even grassroots requires some sort of a budget."

It's also vital that PR firms work with a client's ad and promotion partners, Ostin says, to "make sure our message is in sync" with a product's overall marketing plan.

Clifford clients receive monthly status reports. Ostin says these can be used as resource tools by other marketing partners. In addition, Clifford account teams meet regularly with clients' partner agencies to review messaging and discuss upcoming strategies.

Overall, it's thinking like this that has begun to boost clients' level of understanding of PR's value. "We sometimes don't get results immediately," Ostin says. "It's an educational process."

Key points:

Identify specific project goals from the very start

Dig deep for compelling news hooks. Creativity and strategy go a long way

Don't exist in a silo. Incorporate PR efforts into an integrated marketing plan

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