THE AGENCY BUSINESS: Marketing a PR firm is much the same as marketing a client

Some agencies are better than others at marketing themselves. But those who do it well, finds Paul Cordasco, handle their own firms' marketing just like they would for a regular, paying client.

Some agencies are better than others at marketing themselves. But those who do it well, finds Paul Cordasco, handle their own firms' marketing just like they would for a regular, paying client.

If there is one hackneyed cliche that every PR agency executive knows by heart, it's this: The cobbler's children have holes in their shoes. This is generally understood to mean that while agencies are great at marketing their clients, they often neglect marketing themselves. Like most cliches, there is some truth to this. Many firms are surprisingly amateurish about their own PR, while others just seem to neglect it altogether. Still, there are also a fair amount of examples of firms that take their own PR and marketing seriously enough to turn that cliche on its head. Among the midsize PR shops, eight-year-old Peppercom is consistently among the most aggressive self-marketers. The New York-based agency, which posted revenue of $5.6 million in 2002 according to the Council of PR Firm's annual rankings, makes sure it gets at least as good marketing as its clients. That is because it treats the "Peppercom account" like it's a Peppercom client. The firm has its own in-house account team of about eight AE's whose members split their time between the Peppercom account and other client account work. The firm's cofounder and managing partner Steve Cody claims that Peppercom logs as much as $25,000 a month worth of time doing PR for itself. "From day one, we knew that in order to put ourselves on the map we needed to treat Peppercom as a brand," says Cody. "Early on, when we only had one or two clients, we always treated Peppercom as client number three." Cody says the goal of his marketing efforts has always been twofold. The first step is about raising Peppercom's name recognition. The second goal is to differentiate the firm from the agency pack. While its methods are often far from earth-shattering (a cobranded survey about corporate governance, bylined opinion pieces by Peppercom executives in business magazines and journals), the firm often targets publications that other firms may not seek out intuitively. Since shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Peppercom has attempted to position itself as an industry leader in helping to devise crisis communications plans that help companies deal with the aftermath of a disaster. Therefore, the firm often pitches trade and specialty media associated with this burgeoning industry. For instance, Peppercom recently had one of its surveys placed in Continuity Insights Magazine, which deals with issues surrounding corporate security. "It's a magazine that is read by corporate risk managers," says Cody. "So we're not targeting just corporate communications managers, we're targeting risk managers - which are the people controlling those budget dollars." When it comes to marketing an industry giant, the basic tenets can be remarkably similar. At a global agency like Edelman, the challenge is less about gaining brand recognition and more about the struggle for differentiation from the other giants. "Our marketing goals are derived from our business strategy in a very real way," says Derek Creevey, SVP and director of marketing for Edelman, the world's largest independent PR firm. "We know the companies that comprise our target audience, and we know some of the trends and issues that are driving their concerns. We want to be in front of those guys, talking about those trends and issues, as well as solutions." One of the main marketing tools the firm uses is Edelman-hosted roundtables. At these roundtables clients and potential clients are invited to listen to an panel of experts - often most of the panel comprises experts from outside the firm - discuss industry issues and trends. According to Creevey, in 2002 Edelman hosted 40 of these events in Europe and North America. Creevey and his team, which consists of four full-time staff (two in London, Creevey in New York, and one in Chicago) and part-timers spread throughout Edelman's global network, are charged with generating sales and increasing fee income. Creevey reports to CEO Richard Edelman and works from a formalized plan, a budget, and perhaps most importantly, his programs are measured against some formalized metrics. The marketing team meets twice monthly to review its goals, growth targets, and strategy. In the end, Creevey sees his job as a bit more difficult than one might think for one simple reason. "I'm doing marketing for communicators," says Creevey. "These are people who do this for living, so we wind up being a lot more critical of ourselves than we would otherwise probably be." ----- Marketing an agency
  • Treat the agency as account. Understand that each agency is a brand in the same way that its clients are brands.
  • Make sure that the firm has a brand manager. There should be at least one person in the firm charged with advancing the brand and heightening awareness of the firm with key audiences.
  • Track the firm's marketing progress. Look for ways to refine your marketing approach on a consistent basis. Don't be afraid to expand on what works and abandon what does not.

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