"When the client moans and sighs,
Make his logo twice the size.
If he still should prove refractory
Show a picture of his factory.
Only in the gravest cases
Should you show the clients' faces.
This limerick, oft-quoted by David Ogilvy, vividly illustrates the sentiments of frustrated advertising professionals. The role of the Public Relations expert is however, very different. If the client's photograph gets published the client is usually happy, the account is significantly safe, and the monthly retainer fee is not subjected to relentless questioning. A word of caution though: herein lies a possible problem. Let me clarify. There is this company in the consumer goods category that I am familiar with. Although I can't bet my bottom dollar on it, I can still say with a fair amount of certainty that the brands are struggling, competing as they do with the giants in the FMCG space. The uncertainty at my end about the company's profitability is because the company is closely held and is under no obligation to declare its profitability. But there is no lack of publicity for the CEO who is blatantly visible in the media. Every now and then, one newspaper or the other blazons his photograph and his ideas on future trends in consumer behaviour and so on. I am a bit confused and I can almost hear you saying, "What's new?" Allow me to put forward the reasons for my confusion. They are largely to do with the mandate to the PR agency. What must it do? Focus on the brands or on personal profiling of the CEO? Do I blame the PR agency alone? No. I think one of the most important and primary tasks in any client-agency relationship is to determine and set objectives.
What do we set out to achieve? "No wind serves him who addresses his voyage to no certain point" says Seneca. Having said that, I must say this too in defense of PR agencies. Often they are confronted by clients who are in pursuit of their own private agenda, which may be contrary to the overall corporate objectives. They are subtly and yet firmly skewed towards the personal profiling of the client who, sad to say, is interested in increasing his market value instead of thinking about furthering his brand's visibility and consequent value. Is this your experience? Then you have something to think about.
Inform by all means, but only after you perform
Today thanks to the increasing vigilance of regulatory bodies publicly listed companies tend to be extremely careful about making forward-looking statements to media. That's a starting point and laudable. Indeed it is a far cry from the late 80's and the early 90's where companies were anxious to "inform" about themselves before they were ready to even think of "performance". I remember the slew of IPOs on Aquaculture, Granite and what have you, which sprung up out of nowhere. One wonders where these companies are today and what has happened to the money collected from unsuspecting, gullible investors like me. Is your client keen to "inform" before he/she "performs"? Then your antennae, as a PR agency, must be up.
The second category is something that we are all too familiar with. This is the category of companies that perhaps do not even use a PR agency. These companies have a good track record, are dependable but their management is low profile and their image is exceedingly low-key. They suffer from a multiplicity of problems.
"Why should I talk about my success, others should".
"I don't want to reveal my strategies".
"I can't be as loud as XYZ.
Haven't we heard this all before? And yet I believe that somewhere, individuals holding senior positions let their own personal preferences, biases and pet theories come before the benefits to the organization. I can understand a CEO refusing to appear in "Lifestyle" or on Page 3, but it is necessary to get the visibility that a corporation deserves for its genuine achievements. The PR Agency's task (assuming that one exists in this case) is clearly defined. To my mind that includes educating the client, on an ongoing basis, on the value of PR and the credibility that it brings to the table.
The third category is what one would describe as a "dream client". These are clients that perform and then keep informing their public. The name that comes to mind, without too much prompting, is Infosys. The Company's success, its first, and several achievements have been given to the media and, by and large they have been given the recognition they deserve. Whilst it is perhaps difficult to find too many companies in this league, it is also a fact that several companies have significant achievements as well. The problem however seems to be that at times companies do not realize the significance (in media terms) of all their achievements. Share as much as you can with your PR Agency. It might surprise you to discover the nuggets that lie hidden in the mounds of data. No fact is too small to be ignored.
And what about the client
It would be remiss of me not to talk about clients. After all, it takes two to tango. I know that many PR Agencies in the country who do terrific jobs, are, to borrow an old expression, likely to end up being, "unwept, unhonoured, unsung". Clients, despite protestations to the contrary, view and use PR agencies as suppliers. They surreptitiously and overtly monitor how many media people attend press conferences.
"Why hasn't so-and-so not come", they ask and the PR executive who would like to say, "He didn't come because he thinks you are a bore" just mumbles something about handing over the press release to him in person. They want quantity and not quality and some of them want reports on the number of column centimeters. I have no problem with accountability but the norms for this must be sensible. Clients spend an hour with a reporter and frantically call the PR Agency telling them that they have spoken out of turn and can they stop the interview.! It is not easy being a PR Agency. Sometimes, only sometimes, one wishes that clients would make the agency's job easier. We could certainly do with some assistance here.
Keep it simple
Public Relations is not rocket science notwithstanding how PR Agencies wish to package it. All it requires is a clear strategy and relentless execution. Day after day. In one center after the other. It is a bit like Glenn McGrath's bowling. He really keeps it simple. He bowls with boring (and for the batsman depressing) regularity on the same spot, 9 times out of 10. The batsman obliges, 9 times out of 10. Consistency is the key to success. In bowling and in Public Relations. And this is the question that PR Agencies need to ask themselves. How consistent are we? A question that is perhaps easier to ask than to answer. If your delivery consistently meets objectives, then we don't have to run around frantically looking for photo opportunities for the CEOs of companies that are our clients'!
Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO brand-comm and the author of "One land, one billion minds". Feedback can be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org