Talking Clients Down From the Ledge

I have spent much of my time this week and last in airports, and thus have not been able to get to this blog until today.   One topic I wanted to chime in on relates in equal parts to a client I visited on this latest round of travels and an article that ran in the WSJ last Thursday.

My CEO and I traveled to meet the client's team and stage a kind of PR intervention to calm them down after they saw some new business metrics were way off.

The client had wanted to respond to the poor numbers by doing the marketing equivalent of throwing paint against the wall.  They were considering some ill-advised advertising campaigns and cutting back on PR.

Who is to say why their numbers were off?  It is easy to envision a cycle of panic that begins when some sales prospects do not respond as hoped to a solicitation because they have seen some depressing headlines about the economy.  Or, the poor results could indeed be a symptom of deeper problems.

My CEO and I talked the clients down off the ledge and advised them to not lose their heads and go off in some crazy new directions.  We told them that the best driver of new business is a strong and well recognized brand, and reminded them of the progress we had achieved, and of the ways that PR can support both long term branding and short term new business goals.  Acknowledging the possible threat to the business, we discussed a seven day plan of action that should provide immediate returns in supporting demand generation (see my earlier post Turning PR into a Sales Lead Generating Machine).

In short, we effectively calmed the clients down and advised them not to forget everything they new about PR and marketing.  The meeting left them with a better sense of how we can work together to address short and long term business needs.

Second, it seems that economy is driving renewed interest in the idea of pay for performance in the realm of professional services (including PR and marketing) as reported in an article in the WSJ Firms Try Alternative to Hourly Fees.

I take issue with the reporter's seemingly off hand comment about "pricey retainers and uncertain results of traditional public relations" when comparing hourly fee-based arrangements with alternatives such as pay for performance.

Tell me, please, which marketing tactics offer guaranteed results?  And PR, which typically does tie back to an hourly fee (or wage) has been proven to deliver outsized returns when compared with other forms of marketing.

True, with pay for performance you do not pay until you get the result.  But coverage (typically the measure used) does not guaranty sales, and a short term focus on coverage to drive sales could come at the expense of taking the time needed to cultivate the brand and execute effective strategies over the long haul.

In other aspects, the article was on target and I applaud those who are introducing innovative billing models, especially the ones that combine elements of hourly or minimum fixed fees and performance incentives.

I do think PR and other marketers need to do a better job of proving the value they deliver.   If the metrics can be tied back to results that really are proven, like sales conversions, all the better.

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