Sunday, February 22, 2009

Let's Give Thanks

I love the Oscars. The production, the glamour, the stars, the music. But, most of all I love the heartfelt thanks that each award winner has for those who made it possible.

Last night Hollywood paused and acknowledged and paid tribute to the excellence of its personnel. Excellence today and excellence of yesterday. I saw admiration, awe, love, homage, reverence, and respect.

For all of us caught up in the economic crisis, for all of us who are experiencing tough times, perhaps we too should pause from our daily trials of P&L management, new business proposals and client trauma and give thanks to our personnel.

There are great and wonderful people who toil in our PR agencies and client corporate departments. Pay them the respect and admiration they deserve. They are helping to keep our industry vibrant, innovative and exciting.

Thank your employees. Thank them for their hard work, their commitment, their dedication. And, while you’re at it, thank those who came before you. The great leaders who built great firms and paved the way for all of us to work in a field that we love.

We work in a wonderful industry, no matter what others may say. It’s time we acknowledged that publicly and not take a back seat to anybody.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cookie Cutter Doesn't Cut It

I've read lots of agency new business proposals. Especially today, but even when business is robust, cookie cutter proposals won’t win.

Sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of firms that simply cut and paste from one proposal to another and then offer the proposal as new, original, and even strategic thinking. Anyone see yourself in this picture?

Sure you can fool some prospects with this kind of approach, and you’ll even win some new accounts, but you will not win the ones you truly want – those ideal, good names, potentially high budget clients that are crucial to an agency’s reputation.
The excuse I often hear is that “we didn’t have the time to put something together from scratch.” That’s baloney. You chose not to make the time.

If you have to submit a new business proposal in writing, without the benefit of an in-person presentation, keep in mind the following suggestions:

1. Identify the situation or challenges the prospect faces. Analyze that situation. What does it suggest? How has it influenced your proposal?
2. Limit your objectives to a few that can be "measured" and relate directly back to the situation. Many "objectives" I read are really strategies or in some cases even tactics. They don't belong in this section.
3. Prioritize the key audiences. Prioritize is the key word. Explain why.
4. Consider a theme that under which all communication activities relate.
Prioritize strategies. These are “hows” – how we will achieve the objectives.
6. Describe and explain the tactics – what we are going to do. Don't assume PR sophistication.
Be flexible with your budget and termination terms -- especially today when prospects are reluctant to make long-term commitments.
8. Tell the prospect what the program will accomplish.
If you don't have to send it by email don't. Consider "packaging" the proposal creatively and either delivering it in person or by messenger/courier. It will make an impression and set you apart from every other firm that simply emails in the PowerPoint.

New business is the lifeblood of any agency. Make the time, educate your staff, and treat each proposal as if it is the only one that mattered.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Is There a "You" in Sea Gull?

I was once hired by an agency CEO to interview all members of the firm (there were about 12 or so) to get a sense of what the firm was doing right and wrong.

As part of the audit, the CEO wanted to know what the staff thought of him and how he ran the firm.
I don’t remember all the comments but it was a pretty dreadful report. One comment did stick in my mind, though. “Our CEO is like a sea gull,” one person said. “He swoops in, shits all over us, and then flies away leaving us to clean up the mess.”

I never forgot that comment and have talked about sea gulls with several client CEOs. "Sea gullian" behavior is destructive and non-productive. It turns off the staff, rarely creates positive learning and often the end product is flawed because the staffer has little clue to what the sea gull wants him or her to do.

I know one CEO who put up a picture of a sea gull on her computer as a reminder of what not to do. Whatever works.

Are there any sea gulls in your firm? Are you a sea gull?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

If You Build It They Will Come

When you build a home, redecorate your house, or add a garden, where do you start? You start with a vision of what the home, garden, or room will look like. Often you hire a professional to help you shape your vision – an architect, landscaper, or decorator.

So why don’t many of you look at your business that way? All of you who started an agency had a vision when you began your business. You spoke about that vision to anyone who would listen. You probably hired your first employee or found a partner because they believed in your vision. So, what happened to that vision?

For many of you today, your vision is win more business, keep your clients, stay alive!
That’s not bad thinking. It’s just limited thinking. I’m a big believer in visions. I’ve seen them work in my own life and I have seen my clients prosper because they took the time to step back and take a new look at who they are and what they wanted to become.

This step – this foundation of a great agency and hallmark of a great leader – is even more critical today. Tough economic times give you the opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate everything about your firm – processes, staff, ideal client, services, quality control and, yes, also your vision of what kind firm is possible two even three years down the road.

I’ll talk more about visions in future posts. But, don’t underestimate the power of a vision to attract clients and “stars” – and what agency couldn’t use more of both.

Use this time wisely and it will pay dividends you cannot even imagine.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Agency Lessions from the Arizona Cardinals

Growing up in NY I was a NY sports fan – NY baseball Giants (before they absconded to SF), then the Mets, also the Knicks and Jets. Now that I have lived in Scottsdale, AZ for the last 5-1/2 years, I’ve become attached to the Suns, Diamondbacks and, of course, the Arizona Cardinals.
After five years of watching frustrating futility, the Cardinals (who hadn’t won a championship in 60 years) reached and almost won the 2009 Super Bowl. So, what can we learn from this stunning turnaround?

1. It started with leadership. Ken Whisenhunt, the second year coach, and his group of coaches created a new culture in the Cardinals organization. It was a culture built on discipline and commitment. For Whiz, nothing but the best would do. He also knew he could not do it alone. So he recruited a group of outstanding coaches – leaders in their own right – to form his leadership team.

2. Their leader had a vision. The coach had a vision of the success he truly desired to achieve. It wasn’t so much the Super Bowl, as it was a vision of a truly outstanding football team with pride, teamwork and a focus on winning.

3. Their leader truly believed. When he took the job, Whisenhunt was able to persuade the team that no matter what had happened in the past, he believed in the team’s ability to become successful. His belief was unwavering.

4. Their leader lived in the present. While the media (national and local) delighted in pointing to all the Cardinals problems in the first year of Whisenhunt’s reign, the coach firmly refused to be drawn into the debate. He firmly focused on the next day, the next practice, the next game.

5. Their leader was positive when times were bad. This season, when they started well, then were routed by several teams (“the same old Cardinals!”), the coach maintained his belief that things would work out, the team was good, and the foundation he built was sound. The team would return to its winning ways. The rest, as they say is history.

Any lessons here, agency leaders?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

When Will It End?

Welcome to PR Coach -- my thoughts, opinions and advice on issues important to agency leaders. I’ll try to make this helpful and practical based on my years in agency leadership and my current role as an advisor to public relations and integrated communications firms across the country.

I certainly welcome your comments (pro and con); questions, ideas, and tips for agency heads and others in senior management as well as those of you who may be considering starting your own agency business.

When will it end? That’s the question that many agency heads are asking themselves. It’s not a bad question, but I think it’s the wrong question, a question borne from the frustration that many of you are feeling. Your clients are cutting or terminating budgets and you are laying off employees, and reducing or eliminating marketing, training, and other expenditures.

This recession will end as it began – prior to any of us knowing it. But, we’ll feel it. Clients will be more positive and open to new ideas, new business activity (yes, there is plenty of business out there) will pick up. The media will become more positive. The country’s mood will be begin to lighten.

The better question today is how can we use this time to make us stronger when business does begin to pick up?

It is a big question and there isn’t just one answer. I’ll be addressing this question in future blogs. For now, a big part of what agency heads can do is sustain an attitude of abundance and prosperity, not fear. When you operate from fear you operate by necessity from a mindset of scarcity and limitation. And, if that’s the way you think that’s what you’ll get. If you operate from a mindset of abundance you will get abundance. I’m not sure why this works. I do know it does work and I have numerous examples from both my own life and those of my clients.

So put aside doom and gloom. Think abundance; stabilize your finances; accelerate your business development and marketing and take care of your current clients.

This too shall pass.