OP-ED: Ask the right questions and you'll find the right client

Having been in PR for more years than we care to admit, and in the hi-tech PR business for about 20 years each, my three cofounders at Chen PR and I have seen many changes.

Having been in PR for more years than we care to admit, and in the hi-tech PR business for about 20 years each, my three cofounders at Chen PR and I have seen many changes.

With the dot-com bubble having come and gone, the days of companies waiting for eight consecutive quarters of profitability before conducting an IPO are making their way back. And once again, companies need a solid, tested product and several customer references to create and maintain successful analyst- and media-relations programs. The tech media has less to offer these days in terms of breadth of publications, print/ad space, and staff coverage. Reporters and their readers have become disillusioned with aggressive business plans and product strategy/vision PR efforts that don't result in product delivery or revenues. In this environment, if products don't result in demonstrable ROI and customer interest, they most likely won't receive coverage. As a result, we believe it's crucial, even within the current economic environment, to thoroughly screen and select only clients who don't just understand the PR process, but who also have the best prospects for delivering product, getting customers, and gaining third-party validation. In the long run, agencies that take this approach will experience greater client and agency stability, improved profits, and the ability to weather hard times. We've found that using some basic criteria and a little intuition works best when choosing our clients. When faced with a new business opportunity, we do our best to get answers to the following questions:
  • Is there a market for this product or service? Do some research. Are industry analysts and media covering this market? If it's a new category, read about related fields to determine if this new product or service fits. If you have contacts within the media and industry-analyst communities, ask them what they think about the product or service. They typically see several companies a week, and can be an excellent resource for helping you decide if a prospective client has a future. While you're deciding if the product or service is positioned well or has good market potential, ask your contacts about the company itself, its management team, and its reputation. You'll be representing the company and its executives, along with the product and services.
  • Is there a "there" there? Ask to see a product demonstration. We've all heard or read about companies that conducted press and industry-analyst tours to launch their new products, but were later found to be demonstrating vaporware. Presentations that illustrate markets, target audiences, technology architectures, and future directions are great. But the best way to make sure your prospective client has a product your agency can represent is to see a demonstration by members of the product management and engineering teams.
  • Is the management committed to PR? It's a cliche, but true: PR is a process, not an event. A PR program's success depends on the commitment and effort of both client and agency. When a client's senior management and the agency work together, the PR program can become an integral component of a successful corporate marketing strategy. When you talk with a prospective client, discuss with senior management the need for them to support the PR effort with their time, energy, and resources.
  • Is the company well funded? Make sure the client is funded, or can compensate you in a manner you can accept. We all look for long-term relationships with our clients. Having to cut ties over a lack of funding is difficult for any team that's invested time and emotional energy to the account.
  • Is the chemistry right? A successful PR program offers creative, honest communication to internal and external audiences. The starting point of any PR program is the relationship between a client and PR agency. If it's open, thoughtful, and ongoing, the program can and will meet the client's goals and objectives. When you meet with a prospective client, think about whether their team and yours can work together effectively, with mutual appreciation, integrity, understanding, and respect. Asking these questions has helped our agency develop long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with some really great companies. We hope they will help you do the same.
  • Brenda Nashawaty is cofounder of Chen PR.

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