Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Getting It

Does your firm "get" social media for its clients?

Jennifer Leggio at ZDNet is trying to find out which PR firms understand and are executing successful social media campaigns for their clients. She's created a survey for companies (read: NOT PR pros/agencies) to weigh-in on what PR firms are doing and more importantly should be doing in regards to social media.

I suspect we'll see the usual suspects in terms of PR firms that are actively and successfully integrating social media campaigns as part of their larger client's strategy. Anyone know of small to mid-size PR firms that are generally overlooked in terms of their social media capabilities and execution? I would love some recommendations.

If you are a savvy marketing/communications manager for a company that is looking to hire or has hired a PR firm to help you with your social media strategy, you can take survey here. PR peeps: forward to your clients if you think they would be interested in filling it out. End submission date is Jan. 5th, 2009. Jennifer says she'll post the results in January.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How to Get the Most from Your PR Agency

I've been in a lot of new business meetings lately. I've heard all kinds of stories about dealing with PR and advertising agencies when it came to account management, managing expectations and measuring results. Some are good. The majority are bad and there appears to be a lot of frustration with not knowing how to move forward internally to make sure that history does not repeat itself when it comes to poor or just plain awful account management.

Yes, there are things agencies can do to be accountable and establish strong communication with their clients. But what can clients do to make sure they are getting the most from their agencies?

For what it's worth, here are my thoughts for clients:

Get Organized: Identify a point of contact or contacts that interact with the PR agency on a regular basis. This person needs to understand the company's business goals and objectives, as well as manage priorities and requests as they come in. This person must also understand the internal approval processes and be able to route communication materials (press releases, white papers, videos, etc.) through the proper channels within an organization (corporate communications, marketing, C-Suite, Legal, etc.). This will save time and allow a company to quickly respond to opportunities as they arise.

Whoever is the point of contact for the agency, make sure they are able to cross departments (walk through walls) and get face time with the proper executives, employees and subject matter experts. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard clients say they lost an opportunity because their point of contact was unable to push something through a specific department. Give this person "executive backup" if necessary to ensure opportunities don't fall through the cracks.

Establish Goals: All communications plans should support and help achieve business goals and objectives. Know what the company or department wants to accomplish and share with your agency (this is why NDAs exist). A good PR agency will help evaluate and even create a strategy to help accomplish these objectives.

Define Success: Be open to stating what a successful PR/communication campaign looks like. A good PR agency will tell you if those expectations are reasonable and/or suggest ways to tweak a current strategy to get closer to your definition of success.

Define the success of your communication campaign upfront. It may be frequency of mentions, tone of news coverage, number of qualified leads, increased awareness in key markets, improvement in customer surveys, etc. Define success for YOUR COMPANY. What works as a measurement of success for one company may not work for another. Talk about what success means to YOU. A good PR agency can recommend ways to measure a campaign's success.

Talk to your Agency: Not all sales opportunities come from a sales department. Similarly, not all media or strategic communication opportunities come from your agency. It may come from sales, marketing, recruiters, customers or even your Web site. No matter the entry point of the opportunity, lean on your agency to find out additional information or to help create content or prepare for it. This is our job. As a strategic partner, we want to do everything possible to make you successful.

Demand Reports: Good PR agencies will provide you with regular reports. When selecting an PR agency always ask if they have a formal account management reporting structure in place. A few of the reports you should ask for are written weekly status reports, media pitch reports, monthly account activity reports and media monitoring/analysis/clip reports (if you pay for media monitoring services). Don't settle for just a weekly status phone call. Hold your agency accountable too.

Be Flexible: Not everything can be planned. There will be media opportunities and PR initiatives that "spring up" and a company will have to be reactive. Talk to you PR team on how to best handle these opportunities and make sure you have any crisis or issues management plans in place for any complicated communication issues.

Provide Access: A press release is never just a press release (and if it is, why are you spending the money?) A good PR campaign should support your marketing and sales efforts. Trolling for ink does NOT equal more sales or revenue. A good PR agency will ask to meet with and discuss business goals, products, and services with your executive team, marketing managers, sales representatives and existing customers. In doing so, they will be able to provide you with the best counsel and recommendations on how to move forward to achieve your goals.

PR Pros: What other recommendations do you have for clients to get the most from their agency?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why I Will Never Again Be A Marriott Customer

As I posted earlier, I have had some issues with Marriott in relation to establishing a block of rooms for my wedding last month. The most surprising thing is that after what I thought was a ridiculous comedy of errors, I thought everything I had been resolved.

I was wrong.

Let's start with what went wrong when I arrived at the Marriott location where my block of rooms was reserved and where I would be staying. After promising me a hospitality suite throughout my stay, the Marriott representative that checked me in at the desk told me there was no such room available and there was no record of Marriott staff authorizing the use of such a room for me.

Needless to say, I was shocked and stayed the night in the very nice King sized room they put me in. The next day, I called the Marriott representative who handled my original complaints and she very quickly sprang into action and set-up the hospitality suite I had been promised and apologized for the misunderstanding (again). She and her staff even went beyond what they had promised setting up complimentary champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, bottled water and soda for the suite. It was very nice and I was very touched. She and her staff went to great lengths to make sure the situation was rectified. I asked to speak to her manager at the time to praise her for her hard work and restoring my faith in the Marriott brand. The manager thanked me for my praise and said she would be recognized internally (NOTE: She STILL deserves to be recognized! Despite what I write below, SHE is one of Marriott's true stars!)

And then it fell apart again.

When I checked-in to the Marriott, I was asked (as all hotels require) to provide a credit card for incidentals. I provided the card (same card I reserved my room with), but asked them not to charge the card for my room stay as I would be using my soon-to-be-husband's card to pay our bill (lots of wedding charges were already on my card). They agreed.

The Marriott then TRIPLE charged us for our stay.

Yes, Triple charged.

I discovered this on our honeymoon when a $420 charge was placed on my credit card. I then asked my now husband if the $560 charge we were assessed when we checked out was on his card. He checked. It was along with ANOTHER $600+ charge. Upon further inspection, we realized that the Marriott had charged me for the one king room I had stayed in that night when they failed to check me into the hospitality suite as promised and then they charged us separately for EACH of the suite rooms (they were joined) that we were led to believe would be one charge under the discounted rate we had already negotiated because of all the other issues we had faced.

We then had to make 6 separate phone calls to the Marriott location to get the accounting department to resolve this issue. As of now, the charges on our cards are correct and we will be paying the Marriott the agreed price.

This ENTIRE experience has left me jaded and fed-up with the Marriott brand. While I appreciate and recognize that no company is perfect, I am really shocked that I received such horrible customer service management from a company that has been in the hotel business for more than 80 years. It's sad that my relationship with Marriott brand had to end in such a comedy of errors. Even their shining star event coordinator (who I still think very much of) can't make me reverse my decision to never stay in another one of their hotels again.

I don't expect anyone from Marriott to read this post. After all, I'm just a small drop in the entire Marriott universe, but for what it's worth, please, please, please review event contract management with your sales representatives. A lot of my issues with the Marriott brand stem from direct interaction with your contract managers that "passed the buck" because they either did not understand Marriott procedures or they were unwilling to help me solve my problem.

I really hope that my experience with Marriott is an anomaly and not the norm. Regardless, my experience is over and like a bad bittersweet break-up, Marriott is officially out of my life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What the New Administration Means for PR

Congratulations President-Elect Obama!

Having lived in the greater D.C. metro area for most of my life, I can see where the new administration is going to have a significant impact - including how government agencies, government contractors and corporations communicate with their constituents, clients and customers.

For what it's worth, here are my projections on how the new administration will impact PR and our cousins in public affairs (Thanks to Ted McKenna (@tedmck), Washington Bureau Chief of PRWeek for Twittering about a story he's working on which inspired this blog post). 

  • Government will be expected to move faster - May not happen overnight, but the Obama campaign and several senate campaigns made such great use of social media and other technologies to disseminate information and keep their supporters informed that the populous will expect to receive information from leaders on a regular if not more frequent basis.
  • "Need to Know" mentality still present but weakened - Traditionally D.C. is a "need to know" town, meaning things are sometimes "above people's paygrade."  While this still applies to key areas of national security, expect to see a more transparent form of government and communications.
  • The dismantling/breakdown of the federal agency/corporate silos - Traditionally (but especially over the last eight years) federal agencies and even departments in corporations have become increasingly isolated.  Cooperation and sharing of information has decreased significantly across all government agencies and some companies.  Expect to see an overwhelming sentiment of cooperation in government (whether it actually happens remains to be seen) and more transparent communications and collaboration tools (think intranet wikis) so different organizations - commerical, non-profit and federal will be able to share information more easily and more timely.
  • Increased demand for communication pros (political or other) with digital/social media experience - I expect to see an increased demand for PR pros who know their digital space. To keep the electorate that elected the new administration motivated, forward-thinking government agencies, contractors and corporations will be looking to hire communication pros that understand the fundamentals of PR and PA as well as how to execute these strategies effectively in the digital world.
  • Government and corporations increase communication budgets - While it may not be on strict communications initiatives, I expect the federal government and corporations to invest more in updating/improving their infrastructure in order to implement digital communication initiatives. More money might be put towards IT capabilities (such as increased broadband for streaming videos; live coverage of government hearings, etc.) and more money spent towards the creation of content for increasing awareness of government programs or corporate marketing initiatives.  I also expect to see increased budgets for internal marketing communications at corporations.
I'll reevaluate my projections 100 days after Obama and the new members of Congress take office.  What changes (if any) do you expect to see in PR/PA with the new administration taking office?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Back to PR

I'm back to PR after a fantastic wedding and wonderful honeymoon!

Thank you for all your kind e-mails and well wishes!

I'm slowly making my way through my inbox after being away for an entire week. I'll have lots of new posts soon on all things PR.

Back to sorting through e-mail....(note to self: next time develop and turn on filters when out of the office for an extended time...)