Public Relations Consultancy
Public relations is an unavoidable function in any organization. As (1984) notes: An organization has no choice whether to 'have' public relations. All organizations are communicating with all audiences that are of importance to them. The decision is not whether to have public relations, but whether these relations will be handled in a planned, organized manner or allowed to be accidental, haphazard and possibly inconsistent.
No industry probably agonizes more over how to make its clients comprehend what they are buying than the public relations business like public relations consultancy. Presidents and counselors of public relations agency worry about the difficult partnership with clients just as much as clients also worry about their relationship with their agency ( 1992).
Client relationships development and management is making a powerful and dramatic comeback lately. More and more organizations are placing emphasis on developing relationships with their customers (2000). This is most especially pronounced in public relations consultancy. Although the term client relationship management or customer relationship management has only been used more recently, the principles on which it has been based have existed much longer. Client relationships development and management builds especially on the principles of relationship marketing.
A Strategic Framework for Client Relationships Development and Management
The definition of public relations in Australia according to Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) is: "the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organization and its publics." In public relations, results are often preconceived as intangible by clients who pay good money for the service. At the minimum, clients appear to rationalize the purchasing of service with cliches such as "increasing awareness" and "it helps to underwrite the sales effort." All the more reason why public relations consultancies have to make every effort to quantify results (1992).
Clients will not appreciate the planning behind a public relations campaign, or the effort spent by the account team, unless they are made to understand how public relations work. Each client has the right to know the sequence of steps taken by the public relations agency to achieve results.
Unfortunately, many public relations practitioners devote the majority of their time to the operational aspects of their services and tend to ignore the need to document and analyze the overall public relations campaign in concrete terms that a vice president of marketing, for instance, could relate to his overall marketing performance.
On the other hand, clients also often think their only responsibility is to hire the agency and then sit back and watch the public relations people "do their thing." This attitude rears its ugly head in a variety of ways. True, the agency's responsibility is to do its very best for the client. However, companies have to realize that they have responsibilities as well. These are relatively simple responsibilities such as: Define goals and objectives, and have a marketing plan; Maintain open lines of communications at all times; Respect the agency as a group of professionals who provide specialized service and deserve to be paid for those services; and Make a commitment to the agency (1997).
An Emphasis on Retention of Profitable Clients
Maximizing the lifetime value of a client is a fundamental goal of public relations consultancy. In this context it can be defined that the lifetime value of a customer as the future flow of net profit, discounted back to the present that can be attributed to a specific customer. Adopting the principle of maximizing customer lifetime value forces the organization to recognize that not all customers are equally profitable and that it must devise strategies to enhance the profitability of those customers it seeks to target (2005).
In any organization, not only in the public relations department, loyal clients are an intangible asset that adds value to the balance sheet. They represent the goodwill earned by the company. Loyal and repeat clients not only contribute revenue by returning again and again to avail of services from the same company, but act as advocates, referring new customers and reducing acquisition tools.
Continuous Improvement and Quality Control Model
The continuous improvement and quality control model most commonly used in manufacturing is a helpful analogy for establishing a system of measures to help public relations practitioners deal with his problem. Continuous improvement is a process of setting objectives, then measuring results through documentation that is then analyzed and reported. Final results are then measured against objectives ( 1992).
The public relations reporting tactics described below serve that function. They suggest ways to keep the client in the decision-making loop by establishing mutual objectives, by using meetings to educate and extend the credibility of the public relations consultancy, and by employing simple but effective techniques for regularly measuring and reporting results.
Clients need to participate in the crucial early stages by providing persuasive and substantial back-up data and thinking. Clients will find it worthwhile to participate in a program if the nuts and bolts of the public relations process in general--and their own campaign in particular--are explained in business terms (1997).
Communication is the key to a mutually profitable relationship. Company management has to be willing to tell the agency its specific needs and desires. Without knowing management’s expectations, it's impossible to meet the goals. To create an effective campaign, the agency has to know everything about the product or service how it works, its benefits and features, its shortcomings, its channels of distribution, as well as products and features offered by the competition. It's impossible for the agency to learn this information by mind reading or through osmosis (1997).
The client doesn't bear the sole responsibility for keeping the lines of communications open. The agency has to keep the client abreast of each project. If this is done, management is less likely to demand unreasonable deadlines or misunderstand the steps required to complete a project. On the other hand, clients cannot procrastinate in approving a project. Such delays prevent the agency from meeting deadlines - or worse yet, cause cost overruns.
Respect for the agency's capabilities is also essential for a good working relationship between the consultancy and the client. An agency can be a valuable consultant - one specializing in communications as well as editorial, channel, analyst and consumer relations. But their job involves more than just release writing and distribution, press kits, trade shows and article and white paper production.
Commitment is the client’s final responsibility. They have to believe in the concept or product the agency is promoting. They must allocate enough money to market, position, and promote the product properly. Ad, promotional, and PR campaigns - even highly effective ones - don't achieve instant success. If the agency has produced a creative, consistent campaign, the client has to be willing to see it through ( 1997). Commitment also extends to the client-consultancy relationship. Right from the outset, both parties have to want to work together as a team, with the agency functioning as an integral part of the company organization.
Identifying Barriers to Client Relationships Development and Management
When reviewing client relationships development and management readiness, it is useful for organizations to consider the barriers typically faced by other organizations in developing their own programs (2000). In the field of public relations consultancy, it has been identified that there are a number of common barriers to client relationships development and management success. These problems are lack of skills, inadequate investment, poor data quality and quantity, failure to understand the business benefits, functional boundaries, lack of leadership and top management involvement, and inadequate measurement systems (2005). Interestingly, these problems of existing legacy systems, which executives might expect to be a main source of difficulty and delays, appear to be less common than problems associated with internal attitudes and organizational structure.
The concept of relationships between organizations and stakeholders is central to their theory of public relations and organizational effectiveness. A growing number of public relations consultancies in many parts of the world have come to recognize the importance not only of measuring communications efforts, but also measuring how effective they have been in building good "relationships" with key internal and external constituencies such as the clients themselves. It has never been easy for public relations practitioners to measure communications effectiveness. Similarly, it is not any easier to measure how effective an organization such as a consultancy has been in building and maintaining sound client relationships. A good deal of thought and care needs to go into the exercise. Client relationships development and management in the field of public relations still has a long way to go.
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