For many PR practitioners that I have spoken with across Consultancies, a major reason for their continuing to work with a particular consultancy has been their clients. The joy of working with a well established brand...the thrill of handling a challenging and complex PR assignment...the exposure to various facets of PR...are what ignites them and drives them to work everyday. How do you, as a Client, reciprocate this love that your client servicing team has for your brand by engaging in a relationship that is mutually rewarding and enjoyable? How do you become the best client the agency ever had? Read on.
Clarity of thought
The PR campaign is only as good as the brief provided. It is important for you be extremely clear in terms of what you are seeking from your PR campaign. What are your objectives? What do you want to communicate? Who do you want to talk to and in which markets? How do you plan to measure the success of the campaign? Internally, run your RFP with those who will be taking the final decision on the PR Consultancy as also those who will be sitting in on the PR presentations.
A PR Consultancy essentially works on information as its raw material. Much of this information comes from you as a client. Be open, transparent and thorough in your briefings at every stage of the engagement. Warts and all, the Consultancy needs to know everything. Particularly during a merger or takeover or crisis, detailed disclosures help a Consultancy make an informed decision. With CEO exits very much the flavour of the times, I recall having managed challenging CEO exits successfully only because we were taken into confidence by the client and provided with the necessary information to help us make an informed decision on how to manage the transition smoothly. The amount of information shared with your Consultancy can make the difference with a good and a great campaign. You may decide at what levels within a Consultancy you wish to disclose information but disclose you must.
When you begin an engagement with your Consultancy, don’t expect results overnight. Give your team time to understand and get absorbed into your business and the requirements of the campaign – this could sometimes take as much as 4-6 weeks. Every little activity is a stepping stone to a larger goal – let the roadmap be in place before any activity begins.
Set realistic expectations
I know of clients who wanted to be on the front page of the leading business daily, those that rewarded the Consultancy based on whether a logo figured in the photo coverage of an event or not and several who have had similar unrealistic expectations. There are no guarantees in PR nor can a Consultancy wave a magic wand to generate the desired coverage. While setting mutually agreeable expectations lays the base for a mutually rewarding relationship, be realistic in your expectations. Don’t squelch the enthusiasm out of a young PR executive by being demanding and unrealistic. Also try and set measures based on outcome rather than output.
Be part of the team
Any partnership works best when you work together and with each other, not against one another. It goes without saying that suspicion and distrust are detrimental to a good working relationship.
Your agency is not an omnipresent, omnipotent figure
They may be your Consultancy but respect and value their time. Do you really need to call an executive before or after work hours or on a weekend? Can a matter wait until office hours or a Monday? Does a meeting have to be face to face? I’ve known executives in Delhi who have travelled 3 hours for a one hour meeting to discuss a press release draft – something that could have been done over a call. Those 3 hours could well have been put to better use on your account by the executive.
Respect your agency team
Respect begets respect. Treat your servicing team with respect no matter how junior the person on the account may be. Constant yelling, fault finding and putting people down in front of others will demotivate and demean your servicing team and the worst thing you would want to have is a team that is not inspired to give off its best.
Pay your bills on time
First ensure you pay your Consultancy a fair wage. It is well documented that most Clients are overserviced by their Consultancy teams. Find out what the average is in your market for a Consultancy of a similar stature and a campaign of similar requirements and give your Consultancy its fair due. Even better, mention your budget in the RFP – this will help a Consultancy tailor its recommendations and provide an optimal plan to suit your budget. And then pay your bills on time. Timely collections are often an appraisal parameter so your executive meets his/her financial KRAs.
Be quick to criticize but quicker to praise
And finally, let your team’s inbox be filled not just with mails that criticize his response time or his deliveries or his quality of work but also with mails that show your appreciation of a job well done. And for larger campaigns and goals met, it does not hurt to send across a bouquet of flowers, a cake or just throw a dinner for your team. These are the stories and memories that endure and live on in the hearts of people and Consultancies!
This exclusive guest post was written by Melissa Arulappan who is a freelance public relations/ communications strategist. You can follow her on twitter at @meltwith
Image Courtesy: duchesssa
I have often been confronted by Clients with the question of how to choose a PR Consultancy. Given the critical role a Consultancy plays in building and managing a firm’s reputation, there is a lot at stake when making this decision. And it’s complicated by the fact that most Consultancies look the same in their credentials - at least that’s what many Clients say. It goes without saying that if you know what you want from your PR campaign, you will have a far better chance of finding a Consultancy that meets your requirements. Many organisations go through a two stage search – a credentials pitch followed by a presentation based on an organization-specific or hypothetical PR brief. Irrespective of how you plan to structure your search process, what you should look for doesn’t change much.
Shortlist Through Research
This is easier said than done. Although there is no consolidated listing of PR Consultancies in India, Paul Writer has made a great start with the Red Book of Tech PR which is a fairly exhaustive listing of Technology PR Consultancies in the country. For a list of Consultancies in other specializations, you will have to do it the hard way. Think of Companies whose PR you admire and find out who does their PR. Speak to your industry peers who use PR Consultancies. And to journalists who are an invaluable source of information about Consultancies as they closely interact with them day in and day out. Shortlist 3-5 Consultancies that you would like to consider.
Look beyond the size (and remember, size does not necessarily matter), number of years in business, client base, staff strength and so on in a Consultancy’s credentials. Also check out:
Does the Consultancy have wholly owned offices in your priority markets or do they work through affiliates or freelancers? How does the arrangement work and would it have an impact on your budget? What can you expect from markets in which the Consultancy does not have its own office? Affiliate and freelance relationships are, more often than not, transaction based. If your needs in some markets are sporadic, you could do with freelancers and affiliates but check whether these costs would be covered in the Retainer Fee or would be charged additional. If your requirements in target markets are ongoing, your PR campaign would best be served through wholly owned office.
What experience and expertise does the Consultancy have, past or current, in your line of business or in the specific PR skills you require? Ask for relevant case studies. It is an advantage for the Consultancy to have category experience. Use the time in the Q&A session to have an industry discussion with the Consultancy team. Does the Consultancy demonstrate an understanding of the space you operate in? Have they taken the time and trouble to read up on your business and the issues at stake? It will tell you a lot about the passion and interest they will demonstrate on your account.
How many longstanding clients does the Consultancy have? What is their client retention rate? You would want to look for a high rate of stickiness. How many clients have they lost in the last year? How many have they gained? Do they have clients that are a conflict with your business? How does the Consultancy handle conflict of interest? This is a much discussed issue in the industry and there are no easy solutions. If you are comfortable with a Consultancy handling a competitive account, you need to ensure internal processes safeguard your information.
What is the Consultancy’s staff to client ratio? Who is the team proposed for your account? How many other accounts is the same team assigned? How much of their time can you expect every month? Typically, the number of team members assigned to your account will depend on your requirements and the budget. While there is no ideal team to account ratio, you would not want your team stretched by the number of accounts they work on. What is the attrition rate? Attrition is a major issue within the PR industry and constant churn on an account can be terribly disruptive to your campaign. Check the tenure and career profile of team members assigned to your account. How much time will the Consultancy’s senior members devote to your account every month? Ask to meet the team assigned to your account at the credentials presentation. I know several cases where organisations have been wowed by the team during a pitch only to see a different team service their account. Similarly, Clients have been assured senior level time on an account but beyond the first few months, do not see evidence of this. Interact with the team. Is there a chemistry that will set the base for a great relationship? Good chemistry is half the battle won in a pitch!
Account Management Processes
Find out what account management processes the Consultancy follows. What is the periodicity of their status reports? What kind of systems do they use to monitor and track progress on the account? You need to have regular reports that are indicative of what stage the Campaign is at and what the plans are going forward. You also need to know how success is being measured and must be in agreement with the measurement parameters being used by the Consultancy. Can they show you what a media dossier or an evaluation report will look like? How are teams across locations servicing your account kept updated on your business? More importantly, if you have a national requirement how does the Consultancy ensure that you get consistent delivery across your priority markets? This is a major challenge for most Consultancies and a sore point for many Clients. If you have a national requirement, it’s important to have teams that are proactive and working on your account identifying opportunities as they emerge. Your media monitor and other reports will disclose the visibility of your brand and the engagement levels of teams in other markets. You could help in this process through regular conference calls with national teams but make sure your Consultancy has internal systems to keep teams in the loop on your account.
Have you understood how the Consultancy determines its Fee? Is it a consolidated retainer or will it vary based on man hours spent? Would a large event be at an extra cost? If senior counsel spends additional time on your account, would that be additional? You could work various models with a Consultancy – a basic minimum retainer plus projects if your needs are minimal (but get a copy of the project rate card); a fixed retainer fee very month if your needs are consistent; a fixed retainer fee plus additional fees for one-off activities in non priority markets if you have fixed activities in some markets and sporadic in others; or a fee that varies based on man hours if your needs vary from months to month. Choose a model that works best for your requirements. What constitutes out of pockets and how will they be accounted for? Is it a fixed percentage or will it vary? Some Consultancies include the ongoing out of pockets in their retainers. Others charge a fixed percentage of their fee as out of pockets while still others charge an out of pocket at actual. Choose a model that works best for best for you and does not disrupt ongoing activities.
Through all this, you are also evaluating the Consultancy on various other parameters like strategic thinking, creativity, flexibility, understanding of your business, enthusiasm, passion and more.
Finally after you have been through the rounds of presentations and whittled the search down, do a reference check before you make your final decision. There is no better reference than an existing Client so ask to speak to Clients who are in a similar space or have similar requirements or have worked with the same team being assigned to you. Ask them about their experience with the Consultancy on various parameters – client servicing skills and ability to understand industry/client requirements, strategic counsel, responsiveness, relationships with media, ability to meet deadlines and work under pressure, stability of account team, quality of networking across offices, quality of writing skills and fiscal management, creativity and passion. In today’s environment, two factors that are of increasing importance are also integrity and ethics as well as understanding of the social media environment.
If you are tentative and still unsure about who to go with, you could either assign your preferred Consultancy a project or engage in a three month relationship before you take the decision to formalize it further. But if you choose right, you will be rewarded!
This exclusive guest post was written by Melissa Arulappan who is a freelance public relations/ communications strategist. You can follow her on twitter at @meltwith
What are strategic rationale of Patni iGate merger?
There are two broad categories of strategic rationales for IT/BPO companies’ mergers and acquisitions . These categories are Economics of Credentials and Economics of Relationship
In Patni iGate merger the predominant rationale as discussed in media is Economics of Credential. This merger will develop credentials of combined entity as a billion dollar company and there is hope that this billion dollar credential will lead to automatic entry of combined entity into big league of IT outsourcing deals.
I see flaw in this reasoning. In sourcing process for large outsourcing deals final RFP stage is narrowed down to 5 -6 vendors. Even if client has decided for India based outsourcing vendor, advisors recommend to have at least one Global Vendor like IBM, Accenture or Cap Gemini in the final list. Also advisors recommend to have at least one niche player in the final RFP stage. That leaves for around 4 large outsourcing companies to participate and fight in RFP stage.
Will one billion dollar revenue be enough to qualify in top 4 vendors in India? Not necessary…
iGate Patni combines stands at Number 8 in India after TCS, Infosys, Wipro, Cognizant, HCL, Mahindra, Mphasis ( In order of Revenue)
This 8th position in billion dollar club is not necessary a huge advantage in large deals if the entry criteria is top 4 or 5.
One billion dollar psychological mark became entry criteria when only 4 or 5 firms were over billion dollar. If 8 or 10 firms cross billion dollar mark then next cut off will be Five Billion Dollar Revenue ( TCS and Infosys have already crossed $5 Billion and Wipro and Cognizant might cross next year. HCL is already advertising it self $5.5 billion company in TV advertisements though its IT services revenues are in range of $ 3 billion)
Other rationale I came across is that old clients will stay and combined entity will pursue new clients for big deals.
Why does a fortune 500 client some times prefer a small firm for some work when it can very well afford a large firm. I have been in shoes of business users and answer is service, flexibility and management attention. For a small company a big client becomes a marquee client and this marquee client is treated and serviced very well.
For the above reason, small companies always create niche for themselves and survive in any service industry. Now if two small companies merge and become a billion dollar firm then some of the old clients might re evaluate their decision to continue with the new billion dollar firm. The clients might move to other smaller firms like Mindtree, Hexaware, Zensar, L&T Infotech )
What could work?
If combined iGate Patni entity, instead of focusing on new customers, follow the strategy of increasing share of wallet of existing customers then this might work. Combined entity has developed other credentials also i.e. new service lines and new geographies There are very few common clients between iGate and Patni and if combined entity tries to increase work from existing clients using combined credentials of additional service line and geographical coverage then this might work.
Bigger is better and small is beautiful. But what would you say for two small firms who have combined and in the process neither became big nor remained small. They are just right for Amul Chocolates! ( Celebrate whatever the case !)
During my long stint as an employee with a large Indian corporate, my son, then ten years, often asked ‘What I did at work’? In short, what my job or profession is. I tried explaining to him the role of a corporate communications professional… the role of a media relations person… it was an unsuccessful attempt. One fine day I told him I meet journalists who write/report for newspapers and TV and that’s my job.
He was unimpressed. For someone who carried the perception his mother was doing a difficult and tough job, this seemed rather too simple. Meeting and talking to people cannot be a JOB in itself! He was too young to understand any nitty-gritty of this job. So I let it be… thought its best he understands it as he grows up and as his knowledge expands.
But many a times during my career I have felt that media relations aspect of communications function is more often misused, abused and/or misunderstood by many including communications professionals themselves. In my view the most important and difficult aspect of media relations is building, developing and nurturing relationships with key media that matters to an organization. The job of doing that lies mostly with communications and marketing professionals though in some organizations leaders who are also the spokespeople for the company take on the onus of this task.
In an era of technological evolution outpacing everything, some tend to dismiss the need for building and nurturing relationships in media.
The argument I keep hearing are two fold – one, when information access is easy, communication platforms like phones, emails etc., are multiple, why should one invest in building any kind of relationship? One can always reach out to any journalist instantly… Sure, but not necessary that the journalist or the media organization will respond in a manner you would want them to and when you need them to.
Second, some communications professionals say with pride that it is the job of their Public Relations firm to build relationships. “Agencies have all the time and the need to do this 24 X 7. We don’t.” Certainly, if you have an agency, they must invest their time in building and nurturing relationship with key media that matter to you.
At the same time, it is equally important that as a communications professional you invest good amount of your time.
Why? It helps in dual ways.
First, one gets an understanding of what the journalist prefers to write on, does the journalist have any specific interest or liking for an organization or a spokesperson. After all journalists are human too and it is perfectly normal to have likes and dislikes. Where it starts affecting communications is when your organization instead of being in the ‘like’ list has unfortunately fallen in the ‘hate’ list or when your competition is more liked and therefore knowingly or unknowingly gets more written about.
Second, you can subtly position your spokesperson better with a particular media or journalist and remove any perceptions a journalist may have about your spokesperson. Both aspects helps you to position your organization and its activities in the right manner that will interest the journalist. Which eventually will lead to more visibility in the media.
So where does one start and how to build relationships…
- Basic for any long-term activity is the sense of purpose. Why are you doing this? What is the ultimate objective you would like to accomplish? This for e.g. could be in the form of articulating more visibility for your organization vis-à-vis your competitor. Or it could be to position your spokesperson as the best thought leader in the industry you operate in.
- Once defined, draw up a list of media organizations that matter to your company and the journalists who normally write about your industry. This database cannot be static. It needs to get constantly evaluated, redefined and updated at periodic intervals to keep it relevant and current based on your organization’s needs and attrition that happens in Media industry.
- At this juncture it is important to be aware that one has to invest significant amount of time and efforts in building relationships. Every relationship be it professional or personal requires the investment of time and effort. Media relationships are no exception. A structured plan of keeping in touch is useful. It helps you to strike a good balance - neither overdo nor under perform. The plan needs to incorporate the manner in which the relationship will be built and how often are you expected to keep in touch with the journalist.
- Once you are done with the above, make it a point to first meet all the journalists in your database. Spend sufficient time with them to understand their manner of functioning in the first meeting while also introducing your organization, your recent achievements etc., in a subtle manner.
- From here on, one needs to be in constant touch with journalists be it in person, over chat forums, emails, phone calls et al. Whichever may be the manner, constant connect is important. Understand how and when a journalist wants to be contacted. Some want phone calls, others prefer email, and still others would like the conventional manner of personal meeting. Reach out to them in a manner they are most comfortable with.
- A matter of caution – do not make promises you cannot keep. Nothing can kill a media relationship faster than promising something and failing to deliver. Err on the side of caution. Say you will do your best and the moment you know you cannot fulfill their request, let them know as early as possible. Do not keep the journalist hanging and waiting.
Media relations are significantly important to an effective public relations plan. A strong understanding of the media and how best to communicate with them will ultimately improve the key messages you want to provide about your company.
Good media relationships become a gold mine during crisis. One can easily dig into it and mitigate negative publicity to a greater extent. This becomes virtually impossible to do if one treats media relations and building relationships as desktop research.
This guest post was written by Radha Radhakrishnan, a communications professional with over 20 years of industry experience. She was with Wipro for nearly 10 years heading Corporate Communications function. Prior to that she was part of the early Greynium family. She was also a business journalist.
Image Courtesy: wolfsavard
US Senator Charles Schumer called Indian firms such as Infosys “chop shops”. Now this is a term that refers to shops that “chop up” stolen cars for parts. Opinions vary on whether IT services is high-end intellectual work or not (I think it is). But noone has yet questioned Infosys’ integrity, and certainly, overall, the Indian IT industry is well-respected on IP protection norms. So why would Mr Schumer call Infosys names?
Cut to around 5 years ago. Shortly after I joined Wipro we had Greenpeace protesters dressed in silver space suits picketing the front gate. They wanted Wipro to ensure that all used PCs were taken back from customer locations for appropriate recycling. A good initiative and something which Wipro did do, but why not target the larger players? Wipro is a much smaller player than HP or Dell. Why single out Wipro?
Typically when you are trying to promote a ‘cause” you don’t have a great deal of money. Whereas the chaps you are trying to change, do. And since communication is a large component of the effort to change behaviour, you are at a disadvantage - it is a David and Goliath situation. As I’ve said many times before, in this kind of a situation, the differentiator can only be free media (a.k.a. PR). Moreover, David feels that he is on the side of the angels, and therefore the end justifies the means. The net result is that David looks for the most interesting way to frame his message.
And the most interesting way is to call names. A name so outrageous that it isn’t genuinely damaging to the company because it is so far-fetched, yet, worthy of reams of media. This model doesn’t work well with faceless corporations, but with firms that have a well-known CEO. You hope that the CEO will respond and provide even more mileage to your cause. It also personalizes the issue. If they change their behaviour in response to the implied threat of escalation, that’s an added bonus.
So what should a company do when it faced with a name-caller?
Explore whether there is merit in the allegations - sift through the exaggerations to the practical issues. If there is merit, then meet with the name-caller and share your plan to address these issues.
Do not respond to media queries. This only blows up the issue and plays right into the name-caller’s hands.
Route a response through your representative trade body. (The company whose name was taken is usually just the symbolic leader - the cause marketer intends to target the entire industry.)
If the allegations have trade barrier overtones, involve your lobbyist (in countries where it is legal) and your government
On the flip side, Infosys also is getting a lot of publicity through this. And since the claim is clearly exaggerated, they may end up being a net beneficiary.
My first entrepreneurial venture was a health-care software company in New York. Armed with two graduate degrees, a few years of experience and boundless optimism, I plunged into the rollercoaster world of a technology start-up.
The first order of business was to raise cash. Our timing was impeccable; we set up shop four weeks after the Nasdaq market reached its dot-com-driven peak on March 10, 2000.
In our first few weeks of operations, we gave scant attention to the weekly stream of negative headlines pronouncing the end of the dot-com era. We firmly held to the belief that our company was different. Ignorance, as the poet Thomas Gray put it, is bliss.
Like most start-ups we had to overcome two major obstacles: cash and credibility. The first we addressed by going on investor road shows, meeting angel investors and venture capitalists. At one of our VC presentations we discovered a third obstacle. Our long, incomprehensible but technically brilliant (so we thought) presentation put a friendly VC to sleep. As we wrapped up our presentation the VC recovered from our dreary storytelling skills and chided us for not having an “elevator pitch.” It was our “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” moment. We were back to where we started — no cash, no credibility and more importantly no story.
At the time, what we did not realize was that a failure to communicate was really one of perception and could be addressed by an effective public-relations strategy. Public relations is about storytelling. It is also about addressing your target audiences — investors, customers, employees, vendors — through credible sources like the media and industry analysts. Credibility is what builds brands.
So my team and I went back and crafted an effective elevator pitch and started to learn the ropes of public relations. While our much-desired initial public offering never saw the light of day, in the next 18 months, we successfully closed a couple of angel rounds of funding, hired a product development team and got to beta-test the first versions of our product with a few customers. We built some credibility (and a tiny bit of a brand) through the media using an IBM partnership announcement which got us into a few technology trade media publications. We met with a leading industry analyst and told him a story about how we wanted to reduce medical errors by automating physician practices resulting in better quality of patient care. Our messages became more effective, and we stopped putting VCs and prospective investors to sleep.
Nearly 18 months after my rollercoaster ride began we had to shut down the company. The experience though left me with one of the most valuable lessons of my business career: Business is about effectively communicating with various stakeholders. It was a lesson that led me to my next business, a global public-relations firm that now spans three countries.
Harjiv Singh is the co-founder and co-CEO of New York headquartered public relations firm, Gutenberg Communications.
Courtesy: www.prbrew.com (This post was originally published on the Wall Street Journal Blog at: http://blogs.wsj.com/india-chief-mentor/2010/05/05/you-must-have-the-elevator-pitch/- Reproduced with permission)
Image Courtesy: Daino_16
Some questions have been racing through my mind, gentle readers. I’ve met with a large TV brand recently and we touched on the corporate spokesperson’s role in a social media world. Has the corporate spokesperson gone the way of the dodo? Is it a case of Darwinian survival of the fittest, where only those who can traverse the often murky social media landscape will survive? And for those that are walking the talk, can they separate their personal and public brands? Or are the two entwined in some kind of Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader-esque embrace?
Many questions, to which there are many answers. Historically, the corporate message has been sculpted in boardrooms, drilled into sanctioned corporate spokespeople and delivered (we hoped) without deviation to a receptive media corps.
Not that this is all gone, but the era of the three-message-plus-talking-point spokesperson may be coming to an end (or, at least, becoming a secondary means of communicating company messages). If you believe the hype, our media-savvy consumers are flocking to alternative channels to get information. And when it comes to dealing with corporations, they’re wanting to engage with companies on a human level, on their terms, and on their turf. While our corporate spokespeople absolutely need to keep practicing for media outreach, the need for a brand to have spokespeople in social channels can’t be ignored.
So what to do? Not every traditional spokesperson has the right stuff to leap into social channels and – warning, social media cliché – join the conversation. The requirements of a BBS community, Facebook fans or twitter followers are quite different from those of a journalist. Journalists aren’t typically looking for long-term relationships or dialogue - they’re looking for credible sources with stories to tell. Social media communities, on the other hand, want to hear from a human being – not a press release. Someone who tells it like it is, without bludgeoning them with overt corporate messaging. They want advice and information delivered honestly.
And this is the challenge for PR folks who realize the power of social communities. How do you find a spokesperson that can walk this fine line? How do can you help someone build up virtual relationships and not appear a corporate shill? And, most importantly, how do you ensure they are driving conversations that help their companies succeed. As they say, it aint show friends, its show business.
1. I think the first step is determining who the social media spokespeople are. These need to be people who are as comfortable with a blog comment as they are with a quick tweet or creating a new thread in a forum. I feel the best social media spokespeople will have already built up a valid role in these communities. Or if they’re heading into new territory, have the time and aptitude to do this properly. Reality is, these folks won’t typically be the spokespeople of old.
2. The second thing is ensuring they are supported. While one approach is to point a spokesperson at a social media channel and let them go, this is a potential road to ruin. Yes, some people are very comfortable in social media channels and like managing conversations. But – and it’s a big but – comfort doesn’t equate to success. We expect our new social spokespeople to build relationships, but also help connect the community to our brand. This is where planning, calendar creation, connection with a business’ marketing and communications function and ongoing coaching become critical.
3. The third consideration is perhaps the most challenging. Companies have for many years feverishly tried to control their brand presence. While many intellectually realize the need for social media interaction, the very thought of putting a spokesperson into the social media wilderness terrifies many. This is where they need to empower this new generation of spokesperson. Our social media spokespeople need the authority to make decisions and comments in real time. This confidence will often require a chance in corporate policy, real-time escalation and prioritization, and a lot of training.
Hard work, yes. But the returns are becoming clearer. More and more data is showing that social media conversations are critical in forming opinions about brands. Perhaps the real question is – can you afford not to do it?
To circle back, then, to my original premise. Is the corporate spokesperson dead? No, there will always be a role for people who can represent brands in traditional ways. But those that rely on the media as they sole way of communicating with their stakeholders need to look again at how their critical audiences make their decisions – and determine if the megaphone alone is the best path forward.
Jeremy Woolf is a Hong Kong based Senior Vice President for global public relations consultancy, Text 100 with a special focus on social media marketing. The views expressed in this post are his own and does not necessarily reflect those of Text 100.
Courtesy: www.publicrelationships.blogspot.com (Reproduced with permission)
Image Courtesy: lumaxart
The term ‘Attention Economy’ made a lot of sense back then. It still does. But this was a advertising-perpetrated concept.
The Attention Economy, as Read Write Web’s Richard MacManus sums it up, “is a marketplace where consumers agree to receive services in exchange for their attention. Examples include personalized news, personalized search, alerts and recommendations to buy. Note that the Attention Economy is different from the traditional meaning of an economy, because it isn’t about buying and selling – although ultimately those things may occur”.
Some of the critical aspects of this assumption/theory are ‘choice’ and ‘relevance’.
It is the information overload that leads to this concept and that is a factor of excessive choice. Relevance comes into the picture since that is the ONLY way to gain attention. It could be done using emotional relevance, gimmicky, eye-catchy relevance… anything…as long as it is able to attract the attention for some purpose.
But, attention economy, in my opinion, is just one small part of it. The beginning alone, if I may add. It helps us understand that human attention is indeed a scarce commodity and leads us to treat that carefully, efficiently.
Going beyond Attention Economy
A bigger, more interesting economy of sorts is shaping up…or has already shaped up, but has not been given as much attention.
We humans now have the biggest, most mature, most democratic set up to harness opinions, with the advent of social media platforms. We consume products and services. We talk about them. We complain about them. We recommend them…heck, we even ‘like’ them, as Facebook asks us to.
The best examples are the reviews and feedback on Amazon – the equivalent of it in real life would be for all those reviewers to stand near each and every book and speak out their views on it, when someone picks it up from a shelf! That is both impossible and silly.
But, social media platforms have enabled just that.
And, people seem to be opining on things far more than ever. Not all of them are fair. Not all of them are well articulated. Not all of them are even reasonable.
But they are what they are…opinions. And they are mostly out there!
We dig them up via Google. Or join specific online groups to get them to our mail boxes. We trust absolute strangers when deciding on a big-ticket purchase and those strangers have opined on that product online…in droves!
Increasingly, movies’ fates are being decided on Twitter. Why? Because, the early movers are opining about what they watched almost impulsively…not necessarily after the film is over, but even mid way. That is being read by millions of people and collectively, it is moving a needle in people’s mind.
It could be seen as an opinion overload. Or, it could be summarized as the ‘Opinion Economy’.
The Opinion Economy
The trouble with opinions is that people have them!
Opinion Economy is one where consumers volunteer to opine on what they consume – services or products, without necessarily expecting anything in return. The expectation is more in terms of personal branding and personal influence than anything to do with gaining the attention of the brand. Unlike the Attention Economy, selling is not involved directly in Opinion Economy. It is an important consideration, but what is more important for brands is the sentiment behind the opinion. That decides the future course for the product or service.
Sentiment, of course, has to be backed by reach and influence.
Reach is necessary for the opinion to gain wings and spread. Influence is essential in that opinion to be regarded with seriousness.
A person could have 1,000 friends on Facebook or 10,000 followers on Twitter. That is mere reach. That doesn’t however mean that all those connections will take his opinion on a new movie seriously. Influence has to be cultivated using consistency of opining and in a way, quality of opining.
Influence is also a factor of the medium. There are opinions floating on Yahoo Answers – they are remote and from strangers. They would influence a bit lesser, when you compare it with your network on Facebook, with whom you have a closer connection.
People have been opining long before the internet happened. It is not as if they’ve just now found their voices. They used to opine just to a few people earlier – friends, family, colleagues. The more influential ones wrote books or made documentaries. But there was a real limitation on how much such opinions could spread. Till social media platforms came into the picture.
How does Opinion Economy benefit brands?
The Opinion Economy benefits brands in multiple ways.
For high involvement/high engagement brands, the opinion economy is nothing short of a boon. It literally tells them what people think about its products or service in a way that market research agencies do not. But, it is all raw data and is spread all across the web. It is no easy task to accumulate and assimilate. That is one of the reasons why brands are working in droves to create owned media properties so that they can collect and harness opinions in platforms where they have some control.
The scepter of negative opinion always hangs, though. But is that a factor of the medium – the social media? Of course not. It is simply a factor of how good or bad the product or service was, in the eyes of the customer. Can brands change that opinion? Possibly – by making better products or offering better experience around the consumption of the product. But, human mind is highly opinionated and is dictated by each person’s unique upbringing and personal influences. That is what makes the Opinion Economy such a fascinating and complex concept.
For high involvement/high engagement brands, there are multiple touch points across the product purchase life-cycle that could lead to opinions. For instance, for an automobile, the opinions could start right from the hype around a new vehicle launch, go on to the experience at the dealer, the first drive, the drive after 1,000 miles, service related experiences and even resale! Harnessing this opinion cycle is limited only by the brand custodian’s imagination!
What about low involvement/low engagement brands? What happens when people do not talk of or opine on a product or service? Toothpaste…chewing gum…denim jeans…shoes…mosquito repellents…toilet cleaners…the categories are many!
Do we talk about how awesome that chewing gum was? Not necessarily. Low involvement is not necessarily a factor of the product/service’s price alone. Ben and Jerry’s does not cost much, but it has enough flavors to have people start talking online. Pizzas do not cost much, but people talk about the experience of going out and consuming the pizza.
That holds the key for brands that fall under the low involvement/low engagement categories – the trick is simply to work out ways where you increase the involvement or engagement. If the product or service, by itself, does not offer possibilities of increasing either engagement or involvement, it is time to look around the product to create newer points of engagement or involvement. So then, people opine about things around the product or service with or without a mention about the actual product or service itself. That is a huge win too, for something that started as something that could not generate opinions!
Each country’s evolution in terms of internet penetration is a massive deciding factor on how seriously they should take the Opinion Economy.
The US, which has the most mature social media ecosystem could perhaps take the lead here – brands are harnessing opinions in multiple ways and that is a huge win. For a country like India, the ability to take an online opinion seriously is still some years away, though brands have started the process already.
Working our way through the Opinion Economy – CRM Vs. PR
Harnessing opinions in the Opinion Economy can be done in many ways.
Brands have tried to buy opinions and the US has tried creating new laws to streamline this process and make it more transparent. But, usually, the opinions are generated by a trigger – emotional, annoyance, ecstasy, happiness, connection and so on.
The other part, on what brands could do with opinions is more interesting. For a popular consumer brand, there would be millions of opinions online. Can all them even be read/assimilated?
If yes, that is a factor of a customer relationship management function – CRM. The idea there would be to know and if need be, address every single opinion out there to create a positive impression, wherever appropriate.
The other way is the PR function. It is unfair to consumers, but exists, after all. It simply transposes how media relations is handled – a few influential people with a louder voice (through a print publication or television media) are targeted first so that the brand gains visibility with the largest number of people, in the shortest possible time.
The same thing online would be a targeted outreach with people who opine online, but the outreach is done only on those who seem to have a slightly more influential online presence. In a perfect world, however, brands should address online opinions based on the content and it’s criticality. But this is, as I said earlier, a factor of CRM. PR’s effort is to perform the same thing in a targeted manner so that it helps brands reach the largest number of people, with the least effort.
But honestly, the effort even here is not ideally ‘least’. It still requires a judicious check on opinion creators’ backgrounds and social connections and make informed estimates on who is worth an outreach. It is still as ‘estimate’ or the use of the PR team’s discretion.
It is interesting that brands worldwide are doing all of this, but ‘opinion economy’ as a phrase has still not been coined! Opinion overload is as much a real problem as information overload that created the attention economy. Opinions, in fact, falls within the same information spectrum that is already in an overloaded state.
For brands, this is the other view – while attention economy looked at how to gain attention, opinion economy looks at how to use attention already gained.
Karthik S is the head of Digital Strategy (India) at Edelman communications. A professional with diverse experience on both sides - client and agency, he blogs about Indian social media in his blog, www.beastoftraal.com.
Courtesy: www.beastoftraal.com (Reproduced with permission)
Image Courtesy: StillSearc