Tag Archives: leadership

Agencies Should Start Thinking More Like Consultants

January 14, 2017

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This post originally appeared at MediaPost

Consultant Steve…more than five years ago

For the last five years, my account managers have called me Mr. Scopecreep. I’ve never been able to see a problem and not try to fix it, even if it’s outside my lane or scope of work. As a result, I tend to get involved in conversations or meetings I may not technically be getting paid for. While this used to be viewed negatively — I over-serviced my clients, I worked longer hours than I should, and I was responsible for more than a few bright red cells on profitability spreadsheets — I’m starting to think it may not be.

After nine years as a consultant and five more at ad agencies, I’ve realized maybe the problem lies in how agencies build scopes of work rather than how I’ve interpreted (or ignored) them. When I was a consultant, our clients bought our people. They were buying our consultants’ specialized expertise, unique experience, or both. The who was more important than the what. In the agency world, though, our clients tend to buy the stuff our people produce.  The what is more important than the who.

Unfortunately, because much of what agencies produce has been commoditized, clients have squeezed agencies on costs. This has driven profit margins down and pitted agencies against one another in a “how low can you go?” game that doesn’t have a winner. Consultants, on the other hand, have stayed above this. Instead of selling stuff, they continued to sell the people who create the stuff. And that’s a lot more difficult to commoditize.

From Deloitte Digital to Accenture Interactive to IBM’s iX, big consultancies have taken advantage of the gap agencies created. They’re buying up agencies and integrating them into their management consulting practices, giving clients true business partners who also now offer cutting-edge creative marketing services, too.

If agencies want to compete, they have to start thinking more like consultants. Here’s how.

Sell your people, not what they create. If there’s one thing clients hate, it’s when an agency wows them with senior people and then passes the work to junior staffers without the same experience or expertise. Spend time talking with clients about who will work on their business and commit to keeping them on the business. Make sure clients understand the value your agency brings to the relationship isn’t what these people create, it’s having these people on your business.

Invest in your people. One of the complaints agencies have about marketing their people is there’s a lot of turnover and they need flexibility to switch out people as needed. You can’t market your people if you can’t hold onto your people! Consultants invest in everything from onboarding to training to tuition reimbursement. If agencies invested more in treating their people like primary assets instead of secondary parts, the clients would, too.

Be a partner, not a vendor. To manage razor-thin margins on what’s becoming more project-based work, agencies have gotten good at creating detailed, specific contracts. This keeps client requests focused and the agency from losing their shirt in the process. Unfortunately, it also means the agency doesn’t see the forest for the trees. This turns agencies into little more than vendors responsible for creating a deliverable. Consultants, on the other hand, strive to be strategic partners who focus on solving business problems and integrating the systems, processes, and people required to run the business.

If agencies started thinking more like consultants, they’d realize the real growth opportunities lies in partnering with clients to write the briefs instead of only executing against them.

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Running a PR Department vs. Running a PR Agency

September 15, 2014

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Picture courtesy of Flickr user popculturegeek

The PR skillsets and attitudes differ whether you’re leading a PR agency or you’re leading a PR department in an integrated agency

Running a PR department within a larger agency is very different from running your own PR agency. From the employees that are hired to the way PR is even talked about, the skillsets don’t necessarily translate from one to the other. Try to run your department like an agency and watch as you slowly isolate your team from the rest of the agency, leaving adversarial relationships in your wake. Run your agency like a department and get ready for lots of frustration when you’re unable to expand and scale your work. After leading a number of PR and social media teams within large organizations as well as working with a number of people who run their own agencies, I’ve realized that while both roles may have the Director title, the two roles are very different in a few fundamental ways.

  • Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Doubling the number of people on my team isn’t a success metric. Sure, I’m always looking to grow the agency’s business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the PR business should also get larger. Sometimes, growing the PR business on a particular account may not be part of the agency’s strategy. Sometimes, securing another PR-led account might mean I’m not able to dedicate the time/talent to other integrated accounts.
  • PR vs. PR. There’s no single definition for what PR should or shouldn’t entail. In many organizations, it’s everything – media relations, investor relations, events, social media, web content, etc. In others, it’s only one or more of these. In an integrated agency, you have to understand what aspect of PR you’re responsible for and what other agencies are responsible for and work with them. In many cases, I’ve found myself working right alongside another PR agency because they’re responsible for the client’s overall corporate communications whereas my team is responsible for the earned media portion of an integrated campaign.
  • PR isn’t always the answer. There’s no hammer searching for a nail here. When you’re leading your own PR agency, you’re always advocating for your agency and trying to secure additional hours/scope. In an integrated agency, you have to not only understand PR, but also paid media, SEO and SEM, Digital, Social Media, User Experience, etc. You have an entire toolbox of capabilities at your disposal and you have to understand how and when and where to leverage them all.
  • Learn to give to get. Sometimes when I’m part of these huge client meetings, I’ll say something like, “you know, I’ve got $10K in my budget that I could slide over to the Digital team if that would help get the site up and running on time.” People will still look at me like I have three heads. “You’re giving away the PR budget????” Well yeah, if there’s another strategy or tactic that will help meet our business objectives, why wouldn’t I? When you’re working in an integrated agency, you have to understand that whatever money you take is coming from someone else’s budget. Show a willingness to share budgets and resources with other departments and it’ll come back to you, often from departments with much deeper pockets.
  • Your clients are brand managers, not PR people. There are going to be times where you absolutely kill it from a PR perspective and it won’t matter one bit to the client. You might be uber-excited about that opportunity you’ve secured with that morning show, only to have your client shrug his/her shoulders and say “eh, we’ll pass.” The hits, the placements, the coverage that gets PR people all excited doesn’t always have the same effect on people who are responsible for the overall marketing campaign. To them, every dollar that gets spent on trying to earn media is a dollar that could be spent paying for guaranteed media. You have to understand and empathize with their plight and figure out ways to fit PR into that mindset rather than getting frustrated that they “don’t understand PR.”

As more and more agencies integrate paid, owned, earned, and social media in their own ways, the PR professional needs to evolve accordingly, especially those in senior level positions. It’s one thing to have a leadership role at a PR agency, but unfortunately, many of those lessons learned and best practices no longer apply to leadership roles at a PR department in an integrated agency.

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Set Your New Social Media Manager Up For Success

November 30, 2012

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You wouldn't hire Jonathan Ive and put him in a cubicle with an underpowered Lenovo laptop, would you? 

You wouldn't sign Peyton Manning to run the triple-option offense, would you? 

You wouldn't hire Tony Stark but tell him he's not allowed using your tools, would you?

Then why do organizations continue to hire social media specialists, managers, and coordinators, but then handcuff them with outdated policies, processes, and technology? 

I've seen it time and time again – an organization realizes they don't have the talent, resources, or bandwidth to manage their social media efforts so they go out and hire someone. These gurus, ninjas, strategists, and rockstars often come into this new organization with high expectations ("oh, you're the new social guy? Boy do we need your help!"), low resources ("you're all we could get approved for this year"), and an unclear place on the org chart ("well, you'll technically report to me, but you'll be working with Suzie down the hall most of the time as well as being a dotted line to Tom in Marketing").

Not only that, once they get to their desk, they realize that Twitter and Facebook are blocked, their company-issued Blackberry is prohibited from downloading any apps, and even when they do complete all the request forms to gain access, they're told that any and all social media content needs to be approved by legal and compliance. They've got the experience, the skills, and the knowledge to do the job, but they've been handcuffed by their own organization's legacy practices. 

Before going out and hiring that person to handle your social media, take some time to set them up for success.  

Provide a clear job description. Are you looking for someone to be a community manager for online communities that already exist or do you need someone to create those communities? Are you looking for someone to come in and join the marketing team or are you looking for someone to help you integrate social media across the entire enterprise? Do you need a social media manager to simply create and post content or do you need an experienced community manager who can build an integrated strategy that will increase sales, retention, etc.? Are you looking for a do-er or a change agent? As the hiring manager, you have to have to be able to articulate what exactly you need this person to do because the skillsets required to be the day-to-day community manager are substantially different from those needed to create an enterprise-wide social strategy. If you aren't sure what you need, you probably need someone with to help you figure that out, and that's going to require someone more experienced than you think.

Update your processes. If you're going to hire someone to manage your online communities, be a brand advocate, increase brand awareness and interact with customers, make sure they're actually, you know, allowed to do that. You can't expect someone to succeed in this role if your process requires every post, Tweet, and status update to be approved by the Legal team. If your newly hired social media manager is unable to respond to customer service inquiries because "those are handled by the folks over in customer service, not us," you're setting yourself up to fail. Using social media successfully is fundamentally different from every other approval process at most organizations. If you aren't sure what processes need to be updated or how to even do that, refer back to #1 and hire someone with the skills and experience to make those kinds of changes. 

Have an end goal. What does success look like? How will you determine if he/she is doing a good job? Will that be determined by the number of fans, followers, comments, members? Or by sales, lead generation, and traffic? Maybe it will be based on their ability to create and implement a strategy? Whatever it is, make sure that your new hire understands what is expected of him or her.  

Make technology an enabler, not a roadblock. This should go without saying, but make sure that your social media manager actually has access to social media. An easy way to start this new relationship off on the wrong foot is by forcing your new hire to complete request forms to access to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. 

Brush up on social media yourself. You're going to have to evaluate this person's performance and you can't do that effectively if you still think you don't need to understand Twitter because "you're too old." If you're going to be managing someone who's responsible for social media, you better know a little about it yourself. Look at similar organizations and see what they're doing. Keep up with industry trends. Ask your new hire to meet with you each week and help educate you if you need to. You can't effectively manage someone if you don't understand what they're working on. 

Be their advocate. Your social media manager is likely going to have to work with people from across the organization, many of whom will have more experience and tenure than they do. They're going to need to quickly establish respect with their colleagues and the easiest way for them to do that is when you make the introductions, highlight their work in leadership meetings, and give them the top cover to do their jobs. Don't hire them and walk away. Stay involved and keep them motivated. 

You can’t half-ass your social media efforts. If you’re going to make the investment in the time, people, and resources to use social media, make the investment in getting yourself and your organization ready to make the most out of this new talent. Spend a few more weeks now setting him/her up for success or spend a lot more time later trying to find another social media manager to replace the first one who quit after two months. 

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Ten “Boring” PR Skills You Need to Have

November 9, 2012

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A few weeks ago, I was talking to some college students about PR, advertising, living in Chicago, and the work I'm doing at C-K. They loved hearing about the work that we've done with Corona, Porsche, and Cedar Fair. We talked about branding, TV commercials, media tours, and social media. By the end of our conversation, they were all telling me that I had their dream job and were asking me if we had any openings. At this point, I was feeling pretty proud of myself – after all, this was a much cooler reaction than when I'd regale them with stories of working with the IRS or the TSA. However, when I got got back to my office, I realized that I did those students a disservice. I got them all excited about riding roller coasters, drinking beer, and driving fast cars, but failed to mention the really fun stuff that I do every day. 

You want to get really excited about PR? Check out my budget spreadsheets and staff forecasting tools! Join me as I write a statement of work and analyze row after row of statistics! Excited yet? Maybe you'd rather stay at the office until 8PM writing a performance review? 

The best PR pros do a lot more than Tweeting, drinking with press contacts, and attending events. That might be what got you into the industry, but if you want to move up the ladder, you better sharpen these ten boring PR skills too. 

You may think these things are about as exciting as watching grass grow, but you'll want to learn these things if you want to keep growing.

  1. Manage Upward. Do you know how to pitch new ideas and get fast approval to try them? Can you manage your boss and his/her time so they don't become a bottleneck? Learn what makes your boss tick. Learn how they work so that you can expedite getting things done when you want to try something new. Gain their trust so are empowered to take risks and know they've got your back. 
  2. Manage your time. How many hours does it take you to write a press release? Do you know how to estimate how long it will take you to do something and then manage your own workload to get that job done on time? One of the best skills a junior person can develop is the ability to accurately estimate how long it will take them to do a job. 
  3. Give feedback. Do you know how to give honest, constructive feedback to a colleague? To your boss? Learn how to give both positive and negative feedback. This goes beyond saying "good job" – it means giving feedback so that people are motivated to do better. It means giving feedback so that they learn from their mistakes without feeling like an idiot. 
  4. Analyze statistics. Do you know how to make sense out of a mess of numbers? Can you comb through a bunch of spreadsheets and tables to find something meaningful? Learn how to analyze data, but even more than that, learn how to distill it down to laymen's terms. 
  5. Build and manage a budget. Do you know how to allocate $10,000 to get the job done? How many hours do you need? How many hours does your Assistant Account Executive need? How much of that should be allocated to hard costs like giveaways or vendor fees? Learn about hourly rates, profit margins, and scopes of work. Learn how to adjust on the fly and reallocate costs as needed while still staying under budget. 
  6. Delegate. You aren't scalable. You may think you're a hard worker and that you'll do whatever it takes, but at some point, you're going to realize you can't do it on your own. Learn how to delegate work to other people. Learn how to accept that other people may do things differently than you, but that doesn't make them wrong. Learn how to leverage your team's strengths and understand their weaknesses so that you use everyone's time most efficiently. 
  7. Develop and manage a project plan. Can you break up a big project into small tasks, assign them deadlines and then manage to those deadlines? Learn how to create a project plan that integrates deliverables, interim deadlines and costs and how to manage against that. This goes for small projects and multi-million dollar accounts. I've used project plans to help plan my work for everything from website content to huge accounts with multiple workstreams. 
  8. Work remotely. Can you be productive from your couch? How about on a plane? In line? Learn how to maximize your productivity when you're not in the office. I'm not just talking about using technology like wireless cards, cell phones, and video conferencing. I'm talking about knowing how to manage your work so that you're able to take an early weekend because you know you've scheduled your conference calls for while you're on the road. I'm talking about using your time on the plane to write your blog posts or catch up on your RSS reader.
  9. Ask for help. I don't care how smart you are or how hard you work – you're going to need someone's help at some point. Maybe it's because they've got a skillset or experience you need. Maybe it's because you're on vacation and need someone to handle a client crisis. Learn that you don't have to do everything on your own. Learn how to ask for help before it's too late. 
  10. Write a performance review. Sooner or later, you're going to have to write someone's performance review or at the very least, contribute to one. Many organizations have implemented 360-degree reviews where you may be responsible for collecting feedback and writing a colleague's review. Learn how to objectively solicit feedback about someone else, analyze that data and write an objective review of that person's work.  

What other "boring" skills would you add to this list? The opportunity to pitch an idea to the producers of the Today Show or to go bar-hopping with the editors of Maxim may be what got you interested PR in the first place, but those opportunities only happen once someone has done the dirty work first. Someone has to build the strategy, develop the project plan, allocate the resources, manage the budget, and get someone to sign off on the idea before you're going to get the opportunity to make that call. Learn these boring skills now so that you can contribute to the entire process, not just the fun stuff at the end. 

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