As a dog lover and longtime PR practitioner, I've seen the many parallels between the prospect of owning a puppy and how agencies must manage prospective and existing client work. From research to culture fit to message discipline -- there are many similarities.
One of the first things the household adults ask before getting a pup is, "Who is going to take care of the puppy?"
And indeed, before getting a new puppy, it's important to identify who is going to walk it, feed it, and take care of it. The idea of a new puppy is exciting, but what happens when you get it and nobody knows what to do when it's sick, what kind of food it likes, how many times it should go for a walk? It doesn't grow to be man's best friend. Similarly, every business wants a new client, but are you properly staffed to handle new business? Does your team have the expertise to support it?
Agencies must do their research, both on the prospective client and on what your team is capable of handling, before pursuing such a big responsibility. Both the client and your company suffer otherwise.
Choosing the right puppy - from the hyper one at the breeder or the sleeping dog from the humane society - can have a lasting impact.
Of course, everyone loves the idea of a newborn puppy. They're cute, hyper, new, and there's a freshness about them. But with that "new puppy smell" comes added responsibility, training, and headaches. It makes for a great Facebook album one day, and torn couch cushions the next. Then there's the old, boring dog. The one milling around at the humane society. It's been around the block and isn't as spry or photogenic. But it's potty-trained, will sleep through the night, and doesn't rip out the neighbor's new garden.
So which one can your agency handle? Sure, the new upstart with a young CEO is wildly appealing. They're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and seem anxious to take on the world. But do they have any idea what they're doing? Or are they just flying by the seat of their pants and just running in place? Sure, the old, third-generation company doesn't have the flash or substance, and they're pretty set in their ways, but they're reliable, confident, and know what it takes to make it in the industry. Which dog is best...and which dog is best for your family?
You went with the new puppy. Now let's talk obedience. Do we have to take the puppy to obedience school?
Hopefully, you don't have white carpet. Now comes the fun part - training. Sure, it's exciting to just run around outside and play catch. That's the fun part. But any dog owner will tell you that a great dog is a well-trained dog. But how much training do you have to do? Do you just hold its nose in a mistake and hope they learn over time? Or do you give the new bundle of fur a week in obedience school? Just like with a new puppy, the proper training is an essential part to any new client, be it brand messaging, crisis, or media training. It's fun to just run out and book media interviews for your new client but if their brand isn't where it needs to be, they're not on message, or they're caught off guard by a reporter's question, you're doing more harm than good. Taking your client to obedience school is vital to its long-term value.
Even the most well-trained and disciplined puppy can have an accident from time to time. It's why carpet stain remover and Febreeze were invented. But you have to prepare for the accident before it happens. It doesn't do that new white couch any good if the accident sits there while you run to the store for the clean-up material. In business, helping a new client prepare for an accident before it happens is crucial to their understanding of your value and maintaining their brand's image. Crisis training and messaging only go so far. Having a well-oiled and trained team in place for immediate and accurate response can help clean up the mess immediately and keep that brand looking fresh.
Having a puppy is cool. But you know what's really cool? Two puppies.
After all, it needs a friend. But you've got to show you're capable of handling one puppy before we bring another one home. And then maybe we'll think about it.
That's how potential clients view your company - like the owner of a new puppy. Let's see how they handle that puppy and then maybe we'll think about them. If you can successfully nurture, potty-train, and grow your puppy to a healthy, obedient dog that commands respect at the neighborhood dog park, then other businesses will take notice. Then you're on your way to truly being top dog.
Katy Lachky is VP of global communications at Crocs.