COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY 2009: OUTSOURCING PR MAKES SENSE WHEN MONEY
through 2009, the economy remains a daunting challenge for any company
trying to move ahead. Winning positive media coverage is more important
scary is seeing how many companies are still following PR strategies
that go back to the dot-com heyday.
A startup or
early-stage company that has a strategic or technological edge but
a thin PR budget can communicate effectively if their agency is
innovative, resourceful, tech savvy, and not wasteful.
many companies and investors still are not quite sure how to select
such an agency. Using a rationale that paralleled the old adage,
"nobody ever got fired for picking IBM," companies often
retain a "brand name" PR agency with a posh downtown address.
They often wind up paying for the name of a CEO who doesn't work
directly on their account, and typically hasn't contacted a reporter
about a client in years.
A little history
lesson may be appropriate. Back in the "irrational exuberance"
of 1999-2000, the large agencies found new ways to hype, oversell
and overvalue their services. They pushed bloated, expensive retainer
packages stressing their own "brand" rather than tangible
results, expertise, or efficiencies. Investors were dazzled by big
names rather than value, and clients wound up footing the bill for
the training of very junior practitioners.
truly competitive companies know to look "outside the box"
for better value from PR and other marcom agencies and service providers.
I understand the laws of supply and demand and free market economies
as well as any other MBA, but what I don't understand is why the
agency that commanded a $15,000 retainer just a few years ago now
offers the same services at fire sale prices. Are the agencies using
less experienced staff now, or were their rates over-inflated then?
All too often, staffers performing the actual account work tend
to be young and inexperienced, because that's where the agency's
profit margin is based.
now get more for less by eliminating many traditional agency inefficiencies
such as downtown offices with expensive views, rigid 12-month retainers,
the marking up out-of-pocket expenses and outside vendors, and under-qualified
junior agency staff.
companies have started outsourcing marketing communications to battle-tested
veterans who can pick up the slack and provide services on a smaller,
flexible scale, often on a project-basis. Experienced marcom professionals
bring core competencies that enable them to do a better job in less
time, thereby reducing costs and maximizing results. These smaller
("boutique") agencies, virtual PR teams, and individual
practitioners are a growing alternative for companies of all sizes,
particularly those with monthly marcom budgets of less than $5,000.
Like their clients, these outsources have to work smarter, faster,
the services of a large agency really a prudent investment, particularly
in industries like tech and the life sciences, where every marketing
communications decision can affect millions of dollars? Working
on a project basis often clashes with the business model of a large
agency. There are many overhead costs that must be passed along
to the client, and large agencies need steady retainers to make
sure financial goals and obligations are met.
marcom providers find ways to efficiently service smaller clients
and produce results. For many clients, outsourced and project-based
marketing communications has an economic rationale even in a strong
economy. It makes sense to find a marcom outsource that will work
on a project basis, or adapt to a flexible, needs-based budget that
allows clients to pay for services on an "as-used" basis.
It allows companies to do more short-term activities without a large
commitment. If a project proves successful, it can lead to longer-term
relationships. Projects are a great "test drive" for both
the agency and the client - a way to see if they enjoy working together.
Make sure that your agency has a conceptual understanding
of your company, the technology, and your marketplace, but
don't look for a clone of yourself. Can they communicate effectively
with your target audiences? The account team's business acumen
and life experience will compliment your pedigree.
* Location, location, location is out! Are you paying for
the view from your agency CEO's office instead of results?
A prestigious address does not make an agency do better work
or increase the chances of media coverage.
* Agencies love to drop names of contacts, but these may not
be the right reporters, editors, and analysts for your company.
With downsizing and media mergers, journalists change jobs
and beats frequently. Experienced pros develop new relationships
* Look at their clip book, but don't be too impressed, especially
by clips for big name clients. See what they've accomplished
for clients that are about your size and budget. The people
showing you past results should be the same people who will
do the actual work on your account.
* Make sure you have complete access to the agency CEO. Your
day-to-day contact should be on at least the same "level"
you are. For example, if you are a VP, your direct contact
should be at least a VP too. Watch out for agencies that artificially
elevate the titles of inexperienced staffers.
* Big agencies pay big money for top business development
specialists that you may only see until you sign the contract.
Once a smaller or midsize client is signed, they will be paying
part of that overhead, but none of those people will work
on the account. Before signing, meet the entire account team,
and ensure that the agency won't use bait and switch tactics
by including the roster in the contract.
* Your needs and budget may vary from month to month. Your
agency should be able to work with a flexible budget. Most
agencies and outsources will require prepayment of monthly
or project fees.
* You can find marcom alternatives through networking, referrals,
online searches (use key words such as PR, tech PR, outsourced
PR, marcom, etc.), or look at press releases from similar-sized
companies in industries related to yours.
Agencies that advertise or attend trade association meetings
will recoup those costs in their fees.
Chemistry counts - you'll have regular contact with your agency.
Nobody will ever provide a bad reference, so trust your gut
instinct. Marketing communications is an investment. Selecting
a source that matches your company's culture/personality is
likely to give you the best return.
Outsourced providers are a limited resource, often working
simultaneously for several clients. Make sure they have the
bandwidth to take on additional work for your account and
can meet your deadlines.
20 years of experience, Jon Boroshok is a marketing communications
and public relations veteran. He is the founder of TechMarcom,
Inc. of Westford, MA (www.TechMarcom.com), an agency/outsource
specializing in value-based marketing communications for technology
companies. An accomplished strategist and writer, his articles
and columns have appeared in The Boston Globe, Crain Communications,
Primedia Business Magazines, ZDNet, CMP Publications, East
Bay Business Times, Mass High Tech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
DM News, PRWeek, and more. He has "ghost-written"
many articles and white papers on behalf of company executives,
and is also an Adjunct Instructor of graduate and undergraduate
marketing communications and public relations at Emerson College
in Boston and Bentley University in Waltham, MA. Boroshok
has a B.S. in communications and an M.B.A. in marketing.
2009 - Jon Boroshok/TechMarcom. All Rights Reserved
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