Platform: Learning to get it right at the source - If a client complains that its agency isn’t delivering perhaps they need to learn how to prepare their briefs better, says Paul Vousden

Recently I was asked to take part in a fairly lengthy questionnaire process about how much my consultancy spent on training, my attitudes to various courses on offer, and my plans as an employer to increase the company’s training budget over the next year.

Recently I was asked to take part in a fairly lengthy questionnaire

process about how much my consultancy spent on training, my attitudes to

various courses on offer, and my plans as an employer to increase the

company’s training budget over the next year.



There is nothing particularly odd about this except that it came at the

end of a week during which I had answered two similar questionnaires

from PR students, and received several mailings urging me to spend more

on this absolutely vital aspect of my business.



Now, as it happens I am a great believer in training, and my company

does invest in a wide range of courses and seminars for all of our

employees.



I also believe that PR consultancies should strive for the highest

standards in terms of strategic planning, quality of output and tangible

and measurable results.



However, during the same week in question I discovered what I had always

suspected - that many client companies are also in dire need of training

on how to brief a PR consultancy, how to evaluate what is presented to

them and how to evaluate the subsequent programme of activity.



This discovery came from dealing with a client looking for a PR company

to handle a brief. Sadly the standard of briefing on these ’new

business’ occasions is often very low, with little or no time given to

considering why the company is even considering PR, or what the

objectives of a PR programme should be.



So often the brief is along the deceptively challenging lines of ’ we’re

a leading edge company that’s going for growth, and we’re looking for a

really dynamic and creative agency that will raise our profile - they’ve

got to be really bright, creative, controversial and challenge our

thinking’.



When you start to question the prospect in any depth you find their

challenge is actually code for: ’We’re actually quite a safe, plodding

sort of company, and we want to stay much the same as we are. We want a

PR agency that will get us in the national media with safe, cosy stories

that won’t upset anyone, including our shareholders, owners or the board

of directors. Also the chairman wants to be seen in all the right

places, because he’s hoping for a knighthood next year’.



The other phrase to watch is: ’Our senior people are always willing to

be involved in a positive partnership and our MD is brilliant on TV’,

which in reality translates into: ’Our senior people only want to change

the press release to remove any news value. We won’t reveal figures and

our MD is terrified of even talking to the Wigan Weekly unless he has

all the questions beforehand and can see and vet all material before it

appears’.



Obviously there are many clients who do understand the importance of PR

and its role within the overall strategy of an organisation, but sadly

this is not always the case.



Their expectations are often woefully out of touch with what is

reasonable, desirable or affordable and hence disappointment results.

From my experience the business-to-business sector has the least

experience of how PR works and how PR consultancies operate. As a

company we often spend much of our time educating clients as to the

basics of how a PR programme is put together, and what it can and can’t

do for them and their business.



As the millennium also brings with it the prospect of a leap year, I

suggest that all marketing and product managers spend that ’extra’ day

of their business lives learning about PR and how to brief a PR

consultancy - it could save them and us a lot of time and money.



Paul Vousden is chief executive at business-to-business agency, VLP.



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