Archive for the ‘client service’ Category

It’s Time To Rethink Media Training

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

3326693-woman-presenter-holding-a-microphone-in-handMedia Training, once a staple of PR service, particularly from those of us who once worked as journalists, had become, as we put it in this 2013 post, “Kona coffee in a 7-11 world.”

Clients didn’t want to pay for special sessions to be prepared for media interviews, viewed the service as a luxury item and didn’t see it as necessary, as the chances of being interviewed by a journalist seemed reduced on a regular basis. At Tanner Friedman, though, the trend seems to be shifting.

Last week, we were flown to New York by a global brand that wanted to prepare for a new product launch. More than anything, the client wanted its spokespeople to be as effective at possible in using every interview opportunity as a chance to draw audience to its product.

We had a chance to talk to the senior communications executive from the client company after the sessions and were informed that, if not for the company’s relationship with Tanner Friedman, they probably wouldn’t have done this training. Leaving spokespeople unprepared was a real option. That’s because the PR agency community had essentially priced projects like theirs out of the market. The going rate in New York, we were told, is a budget-busting figure, twice what our session had cost, including travel expenses.

Therein lies the problem with Media Training, as an agency service. It’s not just that clients don’t see it as essential anymore, agencies have made mistakes. First, for too long, it has been too expensive. Firms realized clients would pay a premium for it, then they got greedy with astronomical, fixed “half day” or “full day” rates. Second, firms tried to capitalize on fear, particularly in the ’90s and early 2000s, when “Ambush TV” filled the airwaves. Media Training was marketed as a way to “help your executives sleep better at night,” when companies were worried about camera crews showing up in their lobby (a rare event then, that’s even more rare now). It too rarely has had anything to do with real-life preparation.

Yes, there are fewer reporters and fewer opportunities to tell your stories in traditional media. But when you have news, it makes sense to find the right “outside” professional communications firm to help whoever is going to be interviewed get the practice needed to be successful. The fact is a media interview is unlike any other conversation you’ll have. Finding the right firm is a matter of finding someone who will provide Media Training with actual news experience, at a reasonable cost, customized to your needs. It can be done.

Time For Media to Rethink Customer Service

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 6.35.56 PM I don’t want to pile on.  Lord knows both print and broadcast media are seeing their share of problems today.  I also don’t want to come across negatively in this blog.  I’m looking for solutions, suggesting a few even.  That said, this week I faced a double conundrum that, unfortunately, seems endemic – customer service (or lack thereof) that has prevented me from doing what every media outlet out there wants me to do: consume their content.

I love media (no surprise there) and have worked on both sides of the print and broadcast journalism equation. I’m also old school. I like holding a newspaper, thumbing through a magazine, going to a bookstore! I also do everything I can to support a range of media by subscribing to their periodicals and publications. Yes, I pay for news and information!  That said, in early November I noticed a dearth of reading material in my mailbox. I subscribe to and was receiving Sports Illustrated but had stopped getting Time even though the label from my most recent issue indicated a March 2017 expiration date. Oh, the dreaded call to customer service.

There, after dealing with call center hell, I reached a real person who, upon investigating the situation, informed me that I had canceled my subscription to Time in mid-October.  Um, no, I replied, I had not.  After some time I was able to reinstate my subscription with the assurance that I would not miss another issue and that I would, within a few days’ time, receive back issues (including those covering the presidential election).  Weeks later, I have received zero back issues and have since learned that I will not be receiving my first “reinstated subscription” issue until December 17th – nearly a month from my call.

But wait, there’s more. A call just completed a few minutes ago on my similarly wayward Rolling Stone subscription also uncovered a cancelled subscription in October. Wrong again. When informed that a reinstated subscription might not provide me with a next issue until January or February I declined. It’s just not worth it to me any more. To be fair, both subscriptions were, if memory serves, 2 for 1 deals offered through a local bookstore chain that I took advantage of.  The Rolling Stone customer service representative said that he could not sleuth out exactly how the subscription was canceled as it was through “another agency.”  Then again, the publisher was obviously involved with (implicit in) this deal being offered.

No matter who or what is exactly to blame the irony is hard to miss here.  A dedicated subscriber who wants to keep reading but, through technological glitches or timeworn policies (why does it take several weeks before a longtime subscriber can be reinstated?) cannot. Hasn’t technology improved since the 1970s (when I first started subscribing to publications)? It’s hard enough to hold current readers and nearly impossible to cultivate new ones.

A possible solution? If I were among the powers that be, I’d be thinking long and hard about developing new methodologies aimed at one-on-one reader retention and attraction.  And it wouldn’t involve call centers and voicemail. If someone wants to subscribe, get them the very next issue possible, not one a month or two from now. I’d also examine delivery, whether via post office or paper boy/girl.  After our building employed a new mail person, we started receiving a Monday business publication on Tuesday, Wednesday, even Thursday, necessitating a call to our city’s Postmaster General.  Another neighborhood daily, delivered by carrier, rarely arrives every day.

Some is controllable, some perhaps not.  But how do you keep, at the very least, your core consumers – your low hanging fruit – loyal, or even interested, if they can’t consume? It’s just one more sore on a festering wound aimed at rendering traditional media irrelevant.  Loyalists will remain loyal but only to a point.  Indeed, we are begging for solutions and resolutions. Time to whip up and apply a strong salve before it is simply too late.

 

 

 

 

2016 PRSA International Conference Delivers

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-10-23 at 4.49.49 PMAs the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) 2016 International Conference carries on in Indianapolis through Tuesday, I have just returned home after four days and 32 hours of conference and travel time over its first couple of days.  And despite what you might think of PRSA National, it was time very, very well spent.  Allow me to elaborate.

An organization’s defining of and delivering on its value proposition is crucial – to delivering on its promise and mission and in retaining members.  And, it is no secret that the governing body at PRSA National has been called out in recent years on exactly that. What do our dues go toward? How are we, as PR practitioners and as Chapters, Sections and Districts benefiting from the affiliation?

Jay Starr, who is National’s head of Membership, was loudly called out on this dynamic during the conference Leadership Rally on Friday. To his credit, he kept his cool, explained that new tools and resources were coming and then delivered on this promise during Saturday’s General Assembly.  Announced were new online tools and templates for easily and cost-effectively creating new websites, award programs and direct mail and e-mail campaigns; a new, responsive, intuitive and informational website (with accompanying app); and a new e-portal (MyPRSA) which allows members the ability to share and discuss news, information, challenges and best practices. All look outstanding.

In addition to learning what is here and what is become, the conference serves as an ideal connector for PR leadership from across the country, as I spent time with numerous Chapter heads from everywhere from New York and Chicago to Atlanta and Silicon Valley.  I was also provided with a greater awareness of and connection point for the wide range of “Sections” that allow for staying in-touch with others in specific areas of focus throughout the year and from across the country.

In 2016, I am happy to say, my time both out of the office during the week and throughout the weekend in Indianapolis was very well spent; as an organization I and other members often had our doubts about listened, stepped up at the highest levels and actually did what they said they were going to do. And, what needed to be done – for this profession and for those who are carrying it forward.

Ghosting Doesn’t Just Happen In Movies and Dating

Monday, September 5th, 2016

ghostingThe time from the day after Labor Day until mid-December is really the last lap of business for the year. In the PR world, event season heats up quickly in September and goes through just before Thanksgiving. But across industries, projects procrastinated during the summer must be completed at the same time as planning for the coming year. Over the past decade, it has become clear that this dash to the finish line is the most intense time of the year.

It’s an annual challenge to look at the longest to-do lists of the year while also planning ahead. The one thing that simply can’t be done is to look backward as every milliliter of energy is required to be successful during “crunch time.” So, I share this story now:

In May, we received a referral to a company facing an uncertain business future because of some new competition. The referral source thought a strategic, focused PR campaign could be helpful. I met, on very short notice, with the company’s CEO and, after a friendly and thoughtful discussion, agreed to work together on a specific project to begin communicating in a new way. That initial project, as it should have, focused on developing a plan for a campaign.

Once engaged, we met to discuss the company’s situation, in more detail and protected by confidentiality, how that campaign could work. They had a relatively high sense of urgency, so we committed to a one month project, taking us through June. Within just a couple of weeks, my colleague and I developed a draft of the plan and sent it to the CEO and the company’s in-house legal counsel, who had become involved. That was the week before Father’s Day. I was on vacation the next week and was surprised not to hear anything back when I returned, so I checked in. On June 30th, I received this email:

“We are still reviewing your proposal and will be in touch after the holiday.”

That would be the 4th of July. I responded that was OK, but I thought they had a sense of urgency and tried to explain that I was not preparing a proposal, I was preparing a plan, as we had agreed.

By July 12th, I contacted them again with language that included the following:

“It has been another couple of weeks, so I’m just checking in.

My intention prior to Father’s Day was to present you with a draft of a plan that encapsulated our conversations to date and included a suggested roadmap on how to accomplish what we had discussed as the goals, which I also outlined, along with a draft of a “script” that would be needed (REMOVED TO PROTECT CONFIDENTIALITY).

At this point, I’m curious if you had a change of direction, a reprioritization or maybe what I provided did not meet your expectations. My intent was to give you something that would advance, not end, our conversation. If I did not set your expectations properly, I apologize.

I would appreciate an update, if you are able…”

That email received no response. On July 30th, I sent a handwritten note to the CEO along with an invoice for the time incurred in June. As of this writing, that request had not received a response.

I have heard from single friends about “ghosting,” when they’re dating someone and then all of a sudden, the other party just stops responding. That’s what happened here. I was professionally “ghosted.” This is yet another piece of evidence that business people today would rather do anything than engage in difficult conversation.

It probably would have been fulfilling to have been able to finish the plan, act strategically and help this company solve its problem. Instead, it’s time for them just to pay the bill and move on. It’s the end of the year and we have good, collaborative, communicative and dependable clients who need our time. We don’t have to call Ghostbusters because we ain’t fraid of no ghosts. We just don’t have time for them.

Here’s How Not To Fire Your PR Firm

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

unnamedThere are two kinds of owners of PR firms. One will admit that the firm has been fired by a client. The other is lying.

When you spend all day trying to build and strengthen relationships, you don’t want to think about when and how they will someday, somehow, inevitably end. But when they do, it’s hard not to let the postmortem occupy your thoughts, especially when a longtime client does exactly what you shouldn’t do if you ever have to fire your firm.

Recently, a 12-year client ended a relationship with us in a way we did not expect or deserve. This was a client that, once legally able, joined us after a multi-year track record with us at our previous firm. Much of our work with this client focused on serving as direct communications counsel to the CEO. This client, because of the strength of our relationship and a mutual feeling of trust, donated a portion of our professional time to the community where it is headquartered to help raise awareness for the business and living opportunities there. This is a client that also entrusted us to work closely with its Board of Directors on some of its most sensitive matters.

At no point in the 12 years of working together did anyone working for this client provide any constructive feedback about our performance. We never heard “We’d like you to do this differently” or “We’d like more of that instead.” At no point was any dissatisfaction about work product communicated whatsoever. When we would suggest new ideas, we were often met by budget concerns, but that didn’t deter us from trying to add as much value as the client would allow us to provide.

In fact, after our contract was terminated and we were informed there would be a search process, we were told that it was because “we’re examining all of our outside contracts.” It was reassuring when we were hired soon after that for project work, which yielded results. Then, when an RFP was issued and I called the CEO asking if there is a change mandate and, if so, should we even take the time to complete the process, I was strongly encouraged to submit a proposal. So, after 12 years of working together, I gathered our team, critically evaluated our performance and re-pitched the business in a written proposal.

We didn’t even get an interview.

A few weeks later, I received a voicemail from the in-house marketing person. It said that they had hired another firm, one from a city even farther away from the client than where we are located. It said that they were particularly impressed by that firm’s research capabilities. “Research?” I thought. “Research?” There was nothing in the RFP about research. 12 years of working together and the need for research never even came up in conversation. We have a terrific relationship with an outstanding market research company with particular experience in this client’s sector. If only they had asked we could have told them, but, for some reason, they didn’t even want to know.

12 years was reduced to a voicemail. Well, that and an email “making sure” I got the voicemail.

I don’t know what happened on the client’s end of this story. I likely never will. Probably, they grew dissatisfied with our work, but didn’t have the guts to tell us. Why? Was I going to yell at them? Argue? Swear? Cry? Sue? How bad would it have been?

Or maybe they just thought the grass would be greener someplace else. So why couldn’t we talk about it? What’s so scary about a tough conversation?

As the old song says, breaking up is hard to do. But after a long, successful relationship, do it from the top and don’t do it with a voicemail. Show some class and some stones. Have a real conversation, answer questions, clear the air and then, both sides can move on.

Apple: The Devil’s in the Updates

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

apple-devilAs Apple and the FBI tussle over access to information vs. right to privacy on behalf of the tech giant’s customers, I am struck due to recent circumstance by Apple’s often disregard for customer service and preferences. I’m all about: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Apple on the other hand, seems to adhere to the axiom: if it ain’t broke, change it.  Allow me to provide an example.

I love music. I also love to workout. And, the former is, for me, the perfect complement to the latter.  I download songs to my MacBook Air computer and, from there, to my iPhone.  In the past, I have always been able to manage my music much like a radio station.  When I was a music director back in the day, I chose what songs the radio station played and didn’t play, including when to add a song and when to take one or more out of rotation (resting them). Similarly, I have always been able to go to “My Music” on the laptop and check the boxes of the songs I want to synch and then shuffle through on my iPhone (and automatically past those I want to “rest”).

As of this writing, I cannot do this.  I don’t know what the technical problem is exactly – and I am not alone.  My crack IT man can’t figure it out.  Hours spent on the phone with Apple tech advisors and their supervisors and their supervisors’ supervisors have similarly been unable to bear fruit.  And so I scroll and scroll through my entire playlist, half of which are comprised of songs I currently don’t want to hear right now.

What I do know is that Apple has become, proverbially, “too hip for the room.” New  operating programs and upgrades are often necessary to ensure entire systems run most smoothly, I get that.  But continually changing browsers and tools that many of us would prefer to preserve can be nothing but greed (and perhaps Apple programmer boredom).  A nudge to purchase that new phone or software package.  In my case, I’m convinced this about luring me to Apple Music. I’m not biting.

All in all, it is very disappointing and, I feel unnecessary. Apple prides itself on being tech intuitive but has strayed (why do you think there is such a proliferation of ‘do it yourself’ YouTube help videos posted by other tech savvy laypeople)?  Cool gadgetry may keep your programmers and technophiles frothing at the mouth, Apple, but don’t forget the majority of your customers – and true customer service.

’16 to Mark Tenure of 10 Years

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 4.17.41 PMWhen the lights go on in our offices along Northwestern Highway in Farmington Hills on Monday morning, Tanner Friedman will be moving into its 10th year of existence. An unheard of milestone for a Metro Detroit business? No. An important reminder for our agency, clients, collaborators and friends that we have persevered and succeeded? Absolutely. And we could not have done it without each and every one of them.

Looking back, the uninitiated might consider leaving full-time, partner-level jobs behind in January of 2007 foolhardy if not downright foolish. Then again, the economic depression to come was still a year away and Matt and I had firmly decided on our desire to start a business, culture and environment from scratch that we believed in, could build upon and could stand behind.  We’ve never looked back nor taken a step back.

From the beginning we sought to be among the respected PR firms in Michigan. We continue to strive toward that everyday. Those are not words but, rather, a mission. And the recipe is very simple: treat people the right way - with honesty and integrity – no matter who they are. That means empowering and mentoring colleagues; providing the media with respect for the in-basket; and delivering true and sustained value and counsel to our clients.  Demanding is fine, we like to say, but mutual respect is demanded – of our partners and ourselves.

And those we want to work with and for get that.  Some clients have not and are no longer with us.  Most, on the other hand, have been with us from the beginning. And for that we are grateful.  As important are our people. In nine years we are proud of low turnover mostly borne of love (three have left to be with significant others in other cities).  We want Tanner Friedman to be the place not for a job, but for a rewarding career. Our staff is the best and we are proud of each and every one of them.

So, here’s to the next decade. May the years continue to be as successful and fulfilling for you as they have been for us.  Running a business is never easy. Nor is staying nimble and ever adaptive to evolving market conditions and industry dynamics. We will continue to learn and teach, adjust and move forward. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

From A Toast To Business To The Business Becoming Toast

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

imagesFive years ago today. Was it the worst ending of a client relationship? Well, as Matt “Guitar” Murphy once put it to The Blues Brothers, “They’re all pretty bad.” But this one won’t be forgotten.

Five years ago yesterday. A corporate client took our team and their lobbyists to lunch at one of the best restaurants in Michigan as a thank you for a fruitful year of work. Before the high-end lunch entrees arrived, a client executive raised her glass and proposed a toast. “To The Greatest Consultants In The World,” she said initiating a big clinking of glasses and enjoyable afternoon of appreciation.

The very next afternoon, I received a message from the client’s public affairs lead on that project who had been our primary contact. He lived out of state, which is why I figured he didn’t make the lunch. When I returned his call, it became clear why he wasn’t there.

Just one day after being toasted by his colleague as one of The Greatest Consultants In The World, we were being stabbed in the back. Our contract was being terminated at the end of the year – just three weeks later. When I asked “Why,” this Nixonian veteran of behind-the-scenes political work before joining the corporate world wouldn’t give a straight answer. He first said it was because this global corporation was getting a new CEO with new priorities. I responded by saying the previous CEO was just fired five days earlier and was a Michigan public affairs campaign really at the top of the new CEO’s list? He then tried telling me the contract was being ended because of our firm’s performance. I responded by saying that he just had a member of our team speak at a national conference the week before, holding up our campaign as a model. He squirmed to the point where I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. Then he said it should have been me, as the team leader, speaking to that conference. I explained that I was on vacation with my family and he knew that before he scheduled the event. I realized that I wasn’t going to get a real explanation, so I ended the call. I haven’t heard from him since.

We continued to do work for another department in that company for another year. I have my theories, but I never found out exactly what happened or why. How could we be toasted then become toast just a day later? Even in a giant corporation, with left hands and right hands not meeting, it’s tough to comprehend.

Here we are five years later, with a lot more “war stories” to tell. The takeaway? Breaking up is hard to do. But if you’re going to fire someone the next day, it’s better to cancel the lunch plans. And when it comes to the actual breakup, show some respect and just be honest.

Corporate PR Needs Agency PR – and Vice-Versa

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

0c9cc76The majority of this blog was originally prepared for and appeared on Commpro.biz earlier this month. Commpro.biz is an online web resource of information for the communications professional at: http://www.commpro.biz.

As a more than 20-year PR firm practitioner who has worked within the communications/media industry for nearly 35-years, I have witnessed many ups, downs, cycles and trends where our business is concerned.  And while industry sectors run hot and cold and media platforms move from new to old, one constant remains: corporate PR needs agency PR – in good times and in bad.

It’s not hard to recall the “salad days” of public relations, including the mid-1990s through early 2000s, where large, high-retainer corporate accounts were the norm and the smaller, non-corporate clients were “crack fillers” if you took them at all.  When that next recession hit in 2007-2008, for many the industry was flipped on its ear with corporations cutting back and running for the hills in an effort to survive while PR firms were abandoned in their wake.

Many corporations eschewed communications almost entirely at that time.  In fact, we saw a major pharmaceutical company minimized our role and that of its internal resources while a national telecommunications client discontinued utilizing all of its outside PR firms across the country.  Both companies subsequently suffered greatly in terms of customer perception and reputation management, with the latter routinely voted the worst in the country for customer service.

Over the past three years, that trend has gradually abated.  Here in Detroit in fact, even automotive OEMs and suppliers, after taking a couple of years off from outside help, have returned to the outsource fold.  It was just a matter of time and necessity.  After all, corporations need all that agency PR has to offer – and not just head count. Agency resources, relationships, creativity and experience can prove invaluable. For getting the job done with greater efficiencies and effectiveness.  For providing fresh ideas and perspectives. To serve as a sounding board and keeper of the “smell test” for set initiatives and conceptual considerations alike.

Agency professionals also greatly assist in-house communications and marketing counsel in selling key ideas and initiatives to CEOs and other corporate “higher-up”; adding third-party credibility to the decision making process.  It’s a positive we hear from our direct contacts time and time again. At the same time, corporations, as their budgets and comfort level with once again taking risks and thinking outside the box return, afford agency practitioners the perfect opportunity to see their creative ideas realized on scales otherwise impossible.

As we move through 2015, the pendulum continues to swing back in our favor as it relates to the corporate world once again opting toward utilizing our know-how and services.  That tough road back should remain smooth as long as we in this field continue to provide value and a communications road best traveled.

 

The PR You Want May Not Be The PR You Need

Monday, November 24th, 2014

shutterstock_73029673Here’s some perspective from our colleague Kristin Sokul, based on some recent experience:

With so many avenues to communicate in different ways to different audiences, it’s no surprise that when it comes to business communications, sometimes what you think you want isn’t what you need.

I recently met with a business to discuss the media relations and social media strategy their former PR firm had recommended before they parted ways. They didn’t want to skip a beat with local television and radio stations that covered them for annual consumer pieces, and they were ready to take the social media plunge because, simply, “isn’t every company investing their resources in Facebook and Twitter?” Yet, when we talked about who their target audiences are and how they generate business, neither of these answers pointed toward the business-to-consumer targets they were reaching under their current strategy.

After spending some time listening to their actual goals and whom they really needed to reach, it became obvious that the campaign they were sold on should have actually been a business-to-business strategy. Unfortunately, they had been led astray from the media outlets that should have been hearing their story and the social media platforms that would make the connections they need.

By the time we concluded our meeting, the business’ management determined it needed to rethink its entire approach to communications.

As public relations strategists, it’s our responsibility to counsel our potential and existing clients with strategies tailored to their business objectives and exhibit the kind of leadership to help businesses consider what communications tactics they need.

Sometimes what the company needs is obvious, and sometimes it takes a dedicated planning process to identify those needs and prioritize them, but any firm that has all the answers without first asking the right questions should be viewed with a critical eye.

The strategies and tactics selected should support the end goals of the overall business plan if it’s really going to be effective. Some firms may rely on the “easy wins” or build a strategy based on what the client thinks it wants, not what it needs. In the short term, both are happy with one another, but weeks, months or years later when all the communications goals have been met, but the “needle doesn’t move,” someone has some explaining to do. Instead, it should be the firm that does the explaining, right from the beginning.