- Nkiru Olumide-Ojo
Executive Head Marketing & Communication, Stanbic IBTC
If the evolution of Public Relations (PR) practice in Nigeria in the last 10 to 15 years has taught us anything at all, it is that the expectations of clients and PR consultancies are rarely met by either party. While the client wants one thing, the PR firm on the other hand believes that it knows what the client should want and then proceeds without a full understanding of first discerning what the client really wants. It may just be a matter of improper communication between both parties. Often, because the client signs the cheque, it insists on having its way, while the consultant is left seething that ‘this client does not listen’. The outcome is interpreted differently as a result. However, it is the PR firm that is capable of listening and navigating through the client’s expectations that eventually delivers the sort of value or performance that establishes it as a successful practice.
So, the big question is: what are those things that a typical client wants? The things that help him feel like he is getting value from his PR agency. They are quite numerous but some are particularly imperative to ensure a resounding or expected outcome. Among these are an understanding of their customers, both demographics and psychographics including how they consume information?
Right next to this in the hierarchy of client’s needs is creativity and innovation, both words loosely used but the guiding principles are both – how the agencies design and deliver ideas differently- using various tools including the adoption of technology.
Specialisation and an extensive knowledge of the client’s business and industry. Others in no particular order are professionalism, a ‘results’ orientation, quick turnaround time on briefs, efficient stakeholder management, having an ownership attitude, deep and impressive network of people and valuable competitive insights.
Speaking from my experience as an integrated marketing communications professional and one who has worked on both the Client and Agency sides of the divide, I would say these are the most important qualities clients look for in their PR consultants.
Let us take a closer look at some of these qualities.
Know your Customers otherwise known as KYC – Given that the end role of the PR agency is to help stimulate demand for the client’s business, the client expects the Agency to understand their customers. The agency is to therefore invest in gathering consumer insights, no longer should the agency be content to use anecdotal feedback in designing campaigns – agencies should conduct their own researches whilst consistently asking incisive questions of the clients- The How and Why questions should be the PR agency’s companion.
Creativity/Innovativeness – This is my view is one of the most valuable currencies the agency should own- the ability to deliver ideas consistently in that manner irresistible to the Client’s clients. Adoption of media and technology are imperatives for delivering in this regard
Ownership approach – Clients expect their PR management team to have an ownership approach, which stems primarily from embracing a consultancy model as against the agency template. The consultancy model is pre-emptive or proactive while the agency model is largely responsive or reactive. This thinking and culture is one that is speedily growing in the Nigerian industry and which I personally find encouraging.
Professionalism – There is a certain level of professionalism clients expect from their PR consultancies covering the entire public relations value chain, be it client services, media/stakeholder relations, content generation, creative, finance and administrations. A consultancy must not be perceived to be strong in one department and deficient in another or others. In other words, every single member of the team must repeatedly bring his/her ‘A’ game to the table while working or managing a client’s brand image.
Pedigree and track record – A great track record as well as the profile of your clientele speaks volume about a consultancy’s pedigree, industry standing and reliability. When a client wants to get a feel of a PR firm’s level of experience and ability to produce results, they often request for companies that you have worked for as well as demand for specific case studies and sample work done for such clients. A prospective client will trust you much better when they see that blue-chip companies, multinationals and other reputable organizations already trust you with their business. A confident PR firm should also be able to provide a prospective client with references they can talk to.
Specialisation – Stating competence in a special field does not necessarily mean a PR firm is selling itself short. On the contrary, it underscores the firm’s transparency, which is one other quality most clients require in their brand consultancies. Clients want to know their PR firm’s strength or strong suits and skills it is constantly honing. This makes it easy for the client to complement its PR firm’s effort, if needed. Areas of specialisation include crisis management, media management, strategy, brief execution, plan implementation, content development and pitching, media monitoring and tracking, etc.
Clear understanding of the clients business and industry – Every PR firm must understand that part of its job is to regularly offer enlightened advice, proffer useful solutions and render professional service to its clients in order to give such client competitive edge in the market. To do this, however, it’s important that the PR firm has a decent understanding and broad knowledge of its client’s business and the industry they play in. Even though the client is a subject expert in his or her field, a PR firm still has some responsibility to provide professional counsel that would help move the client’s business forward. PR should be seen to be contributing to the client’s success through communication and marketing.
Quick turnaround time on briefs – Responsiveness to briefs, especially on short notice, is pivotal. If need be, the consultancy should be able to operate outside the regular work hours, including weekends and public holidays or during periods of emergencies or in situations when the client is under pressure to deliver to their stakeholders, whether internal or external. This demonstrates how much a PR firm values its client. Even though there are service level agreements (SLA) that serve as guide on brief turnaround time but in such exceptional cases where the client requires timely delivery, the consultancy must understand what is at stake and how to strike a balance in supporting the client.
Deep network of people – A proper consultancy rarely thrives as a one-man team. While it is okay to be a sole proprietor in the sense that you are just a growing concern with no support staff or team, the truth is that you can’t serve your clients very well if you’re brainstorming alone, strategizing alone, and executing alone, etc. Businesses want to work with consultants who have diverse backgrounds, disciplines, trainings and connections. They’re looking at you as the gatekeeper. How much value can you provide in terms of connecting them with people and groups who will help move their business forward? If you don’t have a deep network, you’re going to struggle to build a good consulting business. In addition, consultancies have a great number of contacts and specialised knowledge to be used in implementing the needs of the clients.
In conclusion, there’s a lot that goes into being a successful PR consultancy or consultant. And while everyone takes a unique path, there’s one prerequisite that stands in the way of becoming successful: You have to possess a weighty understanding of who you are and what you bring to the table. In order to help others, you need to be acutely aware of your strengths, weaknesses, past experiences, and future aspirations and limitations.
Having a good grasp of the above mentioned things will help you do some pretty incredible things for your client and by effect it’d help you increase your bottom line.