No matter the tools they use, firms and clients need to work together on progress reports.
As CFO of casual-dining restaurant O'Charley's, Larry Hyatt oversees financial operations for a company that runs or franchises 352 restaurants in 17 states. He also knows all about customer satisfaction.
"When you serve up to 10 billion guests a year, you need to know they are being satisfied," Hyatt says. "We conduct a guest satisfaction survey and are very mindful that some people might view this as an imposition. Interestingly enough, most of the guests want to give their opinions."
Maybe it's because O'Charley's is so interested in what its customers think that Hyatt appreciates it when his IR agency, Makovsky & Co., asks for feedback.
Hyatt sets aside time each year to participate in what Makovsky calls its quality commitment program. When the firm began to work with O'Charley's, the assigned account team met with Makovsky's internal review committee to forecast challenges. Since then, at least once a year, Hyatt and his CEO are asked to complete a written evaluation.
Lastly, an independent auditor contacts Hyatt two to three times a year to get follow-up feedback.
"It takes about a half-hour to complete the survey, about the same to be interviewed by the auditor each time, and then there is the call, often with [agency CEO] Ken Makovsky," Hyatt says. "But it is time well spent."
An agency may be doing a great job day-to-day, but a separate client satisfaction process is a visible way to demonstrate its willingness to put in the extra hours.
And the status report is possibly the most basic client-satisfaction tool, though it's one that is often overlooked.
Lisa Doucet-Albert is SVP for New England agency Regan Communications Group. She oversees two satellite branches in Providence, RI, and Hartford, CT.
"Because both satellite offices are small, we have to work doubly hard to make sure our clients are serviced properly," she says. "While most agencies tend to provide monthly or quarterly updates, the weekly report is a far superior way of making sure both the PR team and the client are always on the same page."
Shawn Whalen, SVP at Schwartz Communications, is a staunch advocate of a metric-driven approach. "The mix of aggressive, yet realistic metrics, is decided on [through] collaboration with the client." he says. "It can include in-house and outsourced measurement capabilities."
Sample metrics include circulation, exposures, advertising equivalencies, quarterly growth targets, lead generation, Web site visits, Web site downloads, 800-number call rate, article categorizations, share-of-voice ratio, message quality, message percentage, reporter awareness scale growth, and competitor analysis.
Client awareness and understanding of all the agency's activities is key in monitoring progress, Whalen adds.
"Beyond weekly conference calls and monthly in-person meetings, many clients leverage online tools such as Web conferencing and extranets," he says.
As for finding the data, services like Bacons and Burrells can reduce the legwork required to get clips into clients' hands. Agencies using news release distribution services should ask about monitoring and measurement, such as Business Wire's NewsTrak or PR Newswire's MediaSense.
Multimedia providers like Medialink have their own monitoring services, and reports are culled from Teletrax, NewsIQ, and SIGMA.
Additionally, an internally developed proprietary tool or process branded with your agency's persona can be a powerful asset. For instance, PR firm ABI has developed a custom-built, Web-based system called ABI Connect. It presents qualitative and quantitative analysis of program results, progress reports on individual projects, and tracking of media publicity.
"But any technologically advanced tracking system should not take away from the business aspect of the PR program," advises Kelly Howard, EVP at ABI.
Make the process friendly to users. Devise multiple-choice questions that will minimize the time and effort to participate
Make sure your numbers are bulletproof. Errors, even minor ones, undermine credibility
Accommodate the client's requests. If they want to provide feedback via a phone call, don't insist they fill out an online form
Randomly solicit opinions. Make sure your principal client contact signs off on the process
Solicit feedback just to solicit feedback. Take immediate and visible action to address any negative perceptions
Sleep on your data. When it is available, submit it so that you are the first to deliver the good news