Every firm has its dream clients. They are savvy and up to date, open to new ideas and strategies, and, more than anything, understand the importance of PR. These are, unfortunately, not the majority of an agency's clients. Many either don't understand the value of PR or think it's only about media clips.
So the question becomes: How do agency execs advocate emerging PR alternatives like word of mouth, social networking, and mobile to more conservative clients?
Educating current clients and prospective ones is, of course, the place to start. Crystalyn Stuart, MGH's director of word-of-mouth services, says she spends about half of her time currently on this effort.
To make the process as effective as possible, the firm has launched "WOM U," a free service designed to educate the business world on word of mouth.
"You don't go buy Tupperware if you don't know what Tupperware is," Stuart says, adding that she has seen a tremendous increase in the number of prospective clients who know about word of mouth.
As part of "WOM U," the agency has launched a blog to help folks familiarize themselves with reading and using blogs. And on the blog itself, the agency links to some of the media developments that are important to know. In addition, the agency offers a free two-hour seminar on word of mouth, helping attendees understand the success of programs with case studies, an interactive self audit, and a brainstorming session.
"I think many people have this preconceived notion that this is a new thing," Stuart explains. "But it's the same thing we've always been doing: looking for a credible source, whether it's the media endorsing something or your next-door neighbor."
Of course, while education about new PR tools is crucial, teaching clients just what to expect from those tools can be equally vital.
Dan Cornell, global MD of mobile at Edelman, says it's just as important for clients to understand what they might get out of the tool as it is to teach them how to use it.
"Sitting down and [discussing] their understanding about how and what these mediums can do for you is important," he says. "But you also have to teach them what to expect. In some of the mediums, especially ones that are conversation formats, what's important is also the fluidity of it and the commitment to stay with it and adjust as a brand accordingly."
Clients who might otherwise be focused on media impressions must be made to understand that the new tools are a long-term process, with a give-and-take mentality. It's not about impressions in this case, of course, but about how many people participate in the conversation, who they are, and what kind of conversation ensues.
And although it seems somewhat obvious, giving a client a reason to use the new tools can be easy to forget. Paul Rand, president and CEO of Zocalo Group, says the attitude "let's just try this because everyone is doing it" won't do any good.
"The better we can be at showing the rationale of going in this direction and the type of results we're likely to see, the more effective we'll be in the long run," he notes. "People need to say, 'Let's try word of mouth because 92% of Americans say a recommendation from a friend or family is how they make their purchasing decisions.'"
Spending time educating prospective clients pays off in the long run
Helping clients set realistic expectations is crucial
It's not about impressions anymore, but a willingness to engage in a conversation