A PR firm's ability to provide exceptional client service is what helps it stand out in a competitive marketplace.
Often, a firm needn't look far to find ways to offer such assistance: Simply tapping into its staff's unique experiences and interests can provide a firm with the enhanced level of service and commitment that gives it an edge over the competition.
"Agencies always seek unique ways to differentiate themselves," says Jonalyn Morris, director of Bender/Helper Impact (BHI) in LA. "When we have the opportunity for a team member to utilize [his or her] own interests, we're able to showcase how our own staff is knowledgeable, uses the client's products, and is willing to go above and beyond."
At this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, BHI was charged with crafting an initiative for client Sony Creative Software - without a new development to announce or much of a budget. But account supervisor Steph Jorgl was a budding singer-songwriter outside of the office and familiar with the software, so BHI suggested that she use the client's music-creation product to write an original song and perform it at the event.
"That helped differentiate us from any other company they've ever worked with in terms of sheer knowledge and willingness to help at this sort of level," Morris says. "Anyone could go in, set up booth appointments, staff a dinner, or prepare briefing materials. But not many agency staffers are performing with the client on-stage."
At Boston-based The Castle Group, account director Hilary Allard, who manages the consumer practice, connects her lifelong love of cooking to her job by making it a point to work with clients' products in her own kitchen, even coming up with new recipes.
"It gives me a window into the experience that consumers might actually have at home when they're using the product," she explains. "It helps me really understand the product and convey the key points better when I talk to a journalist."
And it's not just knowledge in specific sectors that can add value to client work. Meredith Boyd, communications director at William Mills Agency in Atlanta and a former Mrs. Georgia, has parlayed her pageant experience into what she calls "image training."
"All of our clients speak to media, their employees, and prospects every day... so it's very important to help polish and perfect what they do on a daily basis," she says.
Her expertise ranges from teaching clients how to carry themselves more gracefully to wardrobe advice to showing them make-up techniques for headshots and TV interviews.
"I think in PR there's that special something that each associate brings to their client," Boyd notes.
Ultimately, says Allard, it's not only the client that benefits when staffers' work and personal experiences overlap.
"It helps to make you that much better at your job, certainly, if you have a real personal interest in something and knowledge in it," she says. "It [becomes] something that's not just a job for you."
Leveraging staffers' outside-the-job experiences can be a win-win for client and agency
A firm can showcase its broad range of knowledge by tapping into employees' unique skill sets
Incorporating staffers' personal interests in campaign planning can be a creative, cost-effective tool