This Means Business – Client Relationships in PR

Relationship: the way in which two or more people or groups regard and behave towards each other

(Oxford Dictionary)

Relationships are integral to public relations. Whether they are between clients, stakeholders or investors, most practitioners will be inadvertently or purposely managing them every day.

However there is still a question of the best way to effectively manage relationships? While there is no single answer, it is an important question to consider nonetheless.

There is plenty of academic theory on the topic of client relationships but perhaps it is best to ground this with real world examples.

For this two part blog series, I have interviewed a communications professional in order to combine theory with reality and get to the bottom of relationship management. The first part of this blog series will be dedicated to an analysis of client acquisition and retention. Part two of this series will offer an analysis of billing practices, before reaching a conclusion about both areas.

Enter the professional

Trevor Shard has been working in communications for the past 20 years.

His career began in Port Pirie, South Australia, where he worked in a financial capacity for mining companies.  It was “by accident” that his job became more about communications.

“I was the company secretary for Pasminco and part of that job was about communications with shareholders. It was small role to begin with, because the company was 80% owned by 2 shareholders and 20% free float. It this became 100% free float and the shareholder communications part of my role became much larger.”

From this point, Trevor combined his knowledge of business and economics with his communications skills to become, what he names, a “Corporate Communications Practioner”.

Today he works for RMDSTEM, a small professional services firm that caters mostly to clients in the mining and minerals sector. Trevor is the Executive Director, managing the Corporate Services offerings.  This involves acting as consultant for small mining organisations to manage their investor relations and corporate communications.

Despite this kind of communication being somewhat of a niche market, Trevor points out the mining industry is surprisingly close knit and business acquaintances are always moving from one role to another, from company to company.

For this reason, it is even more important to cultivate strong relationships with past clients as they move around the sector; they may ask for your services again if they are in a new role.

Trevor’s background in business and finance positions him as the perfect person to provide insight into two key parts of client relationships: client acquisition and retention, and billing and financial management.

These are the more challenging areas of relationship management, but if you can get them right, both you and your client will benefit.

The building blocks: Client acquisition and retention

As the name suggests, client acquisition is about finding new business while retention is about turning new clients into long term ones.

Unsurprisingly, the literature that discusses acquisition and retention highlights that communication is key when you’re attempting to foster new relationships. But surely that’s obvious?

A recent survey (Chia 2010) of clients and consultants discovered that communication is actually considered to be lacking.

The author found communication was lacking when there was “emphasis on business management only…[making] relations strained and weak, especially when poor understanding of relationship management is evident” (pp. 70).

The feeling that emerged from respondents who were both happy and unhappy with their consultant, suggest, “effective relationship management requires understanding of business and personal contexts within the subjective and objective relational components of vibrant relationships” (Chia 2010, pp. 70).

An understanding of both contexts demonstrates to a client you are willing to involve yourself in their organisation, which sends the message that they are more than just a job. This invites them to be more honest, leading to open and transparent communication.

Andy Marken (1994) says “great client-agency relationships are those where the agency is viewed as member of the company’s management ad marketing teams rather than as on outsider” (pp. 47.) Arguably, if the practitioner doesn’t take the first step in demonstrating their commitment to their client, the client is unlikely to view them as a member of management.

Therefore, it is vital for practitioners to listen carefully, be responsive to change and be adaptive and proactive (Stern 1998, pp.1, Bianchi 2011) to demonstrate the commitment desired by the client.

When asked how he demonstrates this commitment, Trevor explains how he invites RMDSTEM clients to the Melbourne Mining Club luncheon. Each month, RMDSTEM invites clients to their table at the event, allowing for different clients to meet and mingle as well as inviting less business-orientated conversation.

“My clients like seeing who else we work for, and of course connecting clients with other clients is always a way to demonstrate you bring value to their organisations beyond just communications.”

These kinds of events allow a balance to be struck between the business aspects of the consultant client relationship and the personal aspects.  Such a balance is desirable for reasons demonstrated in the next part of this blog series when it comes to discussing billing.

Reflecting brand values through user generated content

If a picture tells a thousand words, then the integration of user generated images and online shopping is certainly a worthwhile idea.

Labels such as Lululemon, Kill Dolls and Free People have incorporated user generated content into their websites, with #hashtags on Instagram and Twitter, as a way to increase brand engagement, initiate conversation and attract new customers.

lululemon2

lululemon1free_people

Source: Lululemon and Free People

This is made easy thanks to the technology of Olapic, which allows brands to easily collect and display pictures with their designated hashtag.

“Just like its customers, Dolls Kill has built its look from street style and hard-to-find underground labels. As a result, the ability to share these new looks with each other is a big part of our culture and the culture of our customers…Olapic has enabled us to create a real connection between our customers and our brand.” Shoddy Lynn – Kill Dolls

However, Olapic leaves content moderation up to the user, so it may be left to PR practitioners to review and choose pictures that reflect the label’s values and identity.

The problem here is the potential to exclude groups of your stakeholders.

Take Lululemon for example. A large number of the pictures displayed are fit, young women – most are doing yoga. As a new customer, if I can’t identify directly with these selected images, I may be less likely to engage with the brand. Or, if I am an existing customer, but feel my values aren’t reflected in these images, I may feel disconnected.

Ultimately, most customers will find it valuable and fun to connect with a label through user generated content, especially given the popularity of fitness and fashion on Instagram. However, it is still up to PR practioners to ensure images reflect not only what the brand wants itself to be, but also what it’s users are sharing.

Balancing PR and the Person

@OscarPRgirl  knows that Oscar had six models in his first run way show, he loves the colour blue and is totally into fur for the fall.

That’s Oscar de la Renta, by the way, and OscarPRgirl is his head of communications, Erika Bearman.

Screen-shot-2012-12-07-at-11.05.09-AM

Since she began tweeting in late 2009, Bearman has certainly breathed new life in to the ladies-who-lunch luxury brand.

In terms of social media, she has done everything right. Whetting our appetites with Oscar tidbits and creating interest and intrigue around the legacy label.

In the world of web 2.0, Ted Smyth of H.J Heinz says “the PR professional of the future needs to transform PR from public relations to personal relations.”

And Bearman knows this best: “It’s become rather personal…but my experience has been that connecting with your followers on that personal level is part of what gives you their attention when you have something to say about that brand.”

Screen shot 2013-04-11 at 10.09.51 AM

These thoughts have lead her to increasingly Tweet (and blog and Instagram) about more than just Oscar’s dresses, introducing us to her husband and her own daily sartorial choices.

Herein lies the PR challenge, the blurred line that divides where PR stops and the person begins.

There’s no doubt that Bearman’s social media presence has helped renew interest in Oscar de la Renta, but has she become a brand in her own right?

If so, how much of our interest in her Twitter account is sustained because of her or because we are engaged with the brand. What if Bearman was to leave and move on to Saint Laurent or Chanel? Where would that leave Oscar?

In the fashion industry, as consumers demand more and more insight into the refined world of high fashion, we should consider how to balance the representation of ourselves and our representation of the brand.

(If you’re not already convinced of Bearman’s popularity, check out Sh*T OscarPRGirl says)

My Attempt at Transmedia Storytelling

“Transmedia storytelling” is telling a story across multiple media and preferably, although it doesn’t always happen, with a degree of audience participation, interaction or collaboration. In Transmedia storytelling, engagement with each successive media heightens the audiences’ understanding, enjoyment and affection for the story. To do this successfully, the embodiment of the story in each media needs to be satisfying in its own right while enjoyment from all the media forms needs to be greater than the sum of the parts.” Robert Pratten

I set out to create a digital story, that was to be a reflection on my time in Bali. The photos from my trip are a really nice summary of what I did and what I saw, so I thought why not expand on those? Naturally, I was drawn to doing something written – this is my passion. I came up with the idea to blog a short story on about of each photos that I uploaded onto my Instagram (these were the best; a total of 6). These pictures were sent to Flickr and organised in a ‘set’ too Voila! I had connected three social media platforms to create one story. Of course, there was also Twitter and LinkedIn, used to notify my connections when a new story was posted.

I feel the outcome of my story certainly fulfils my proposal. Moreover, considering the quote about, I think it involves a level of participation and even contribution from readers. Participation? If you start from Instagram you can make your way to Flickr and then WordPress. Or, if you start from Twitter, you can make your way to WordPress and then back to my Instagram. Each jump from site to site adds a layer to the story and the user experience. Contribution? On every platform, users are able to like or comment on my work.

The story can be read and understood individually on WordPress, Flickr or Instagram. However, combined, you read a story created from words and images, which I think is a lovely combination and visually appealing.

What I think works well for my story is it’s simplicity. I have kept the stories short (under 200 words) to maintain reader engagement. The ‘Bali’ set on Flickr is minimal, and given the user interface on Instagram, this aspect is quite simplistic as well. I haven’t bombarded my readers, or confused them. Each site, and the jumps between sites, are easy to navigate.

The story is marketed clearly too, on Twitter and LinkedIn. WordPress sends these updates out automatically, so they comply with the aesthetics of each site, links are well defined and I don’t have to manually organise them. In this way, I never forgot to promote a new blog post to my followers. Also, all blog posts are linked back to Flickr (picture link and a written link), which then links back to my Instagram.

Originally, I chose only to publicise my work on Twitter, given that it would mostly reach fellow students. However, after receiving some positive feedback on a few written drafts, I worked up the confidence to send updates to LinkedIn. My hesitancy stemmed from the fact my connections on LinkedIn are corporate business people and work colleagues – I wasn’t sure if I wanted them to read this kind of personal work. After deeper consideration, I thought this was a great way to demonstrate and promote creative writing abilities, and social media use.

I’m pleased with what I have created and proud that I met my original goal to create a reflection on my journey overseas. I think it is an accessible, visually interesting and well-written piece of work that both my followers and new readers will enjoy!

Follow me: @mshard on IG, @maddyshard on Twitter and takenbymaddy on Flickr

Leaving

Leaving is always the hardest part of any trip. Happiness and sadness combined.

The return to home, normalcy, routine, grey skies, work, homework.

Long nights and long days are back to nine to five. Sunsets and sunrises are missed on the train or in the car or in the office or at home.

But, there is relief. Clean clothes, clean water, hot showers, home-cooked meals, a currency that makes sense.

My trip to Bali was confronting and confusing and overwhelming. It was also humbling and beautiful and filled me with an appreciation for what I have and where I live.

The frangipanis, dropped over night to come floating in the pool, a reminder of the tropical paradise that Bali should be.

I look upon these pictures now, only a few weeks back, with fondness and a renewed sense to travel again, soon.

The only question now is where?

See the whole story here

Rice Terraces

During my trip to Bali, I was constantly confounded by the incongruity of the island. Designer shops opened onto cracking pavements. Men, bare-foot and knee deep in dirty water, fixing drains. Western mothers maneuvering baby strollers around them. Always culture and consumerism, new and old, beauty and disgust. The Balinese rice terraces were the last stop on a self-designed journey, an attempt to soak up a culture and history I constantly felt was evading me.

Look at this picture – the rice so green, the thatched huts to the left, the thick jungle. It could have been taken 50 years ago. Maybe more. In Instagram’s small frame appears a Bali before tourism. What you don’t see are the shops and restaurants that clung to the slopes behind me and the camera. The line of cars, bumper to bumper, taking visitors up and down. The children holding out postcards, following the promise of money. ‘Only one dollar.’ Always culture and consumerism, new and old, beauty and disgust.

See the whole story here

Highlight

On top of my Mum’s list of “Things to do in Bali” was visit the elephant park. I met her enthusiasm with some trepidation – I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about visiting such majestic animals in captivity. Nor was I certain of the park’s intent – conservation or entertainment? As it turned out, we couldn’t make it anyway. It was too far away. We could make a drive to the Bali Zoo. Still, I was hesitant. Our driver said it was nice. The zoo was much better than what I expected. Efforts were obviously underway to create larger enclosures and better conditions. Only a few times, animals pacing back and forth, did a tourist feel uncomfortable. In the sun we made our way to the elephants. A lucky coincidence – one was waiting at the fence, we were able to pat him. I was surprised by my sudden excitement – so handsome up close, so wise. He felt prickly, like a 5 o’clock shadow.  Mum approached. ‘He looks thirsty,’ she said. ‘I think he needs water.’

 See the whole story here

Temple

Everywhere you turned in Bali there was a temple. Intricately carved with figures and animals, dusty and worn with age. They seemed of another time, out of place in the tourist mecca of Seminyak.

Spotted at a crossroads, in homes, in front of shops and restaurants, seen far-off in rice fields, offerings on the ground. Why, I wondered? And so I asked.

Balinese beliefs are based on good and evil spirits. To keep yourself pure of evil, everyday you must only think good thoughts, provide offerings at dawn and dusk, at temples, appeasing the spirits.

This idea of thinking good thoughts, maintaining purity of mind, resonated very strongly with me. The act doesn’t have to take on a religious aspect but can simply be a tool used to promote a healthy spirit and soul.

It is a beautifully private and personal thing to do. When I find myself consciously thinking of the good in my day, it becomes a very centreing act, grouding you in the moment.

A reminder that religion or faith doesn’t need to be about great acts but can be shown through being grateful for a wonderful life.

See the whole story here

App-Happy

I won’t lie. I love my iPhone apps. In fact, I rather love my iPhone full stop but today is just about the apps, those useful little gadgets or funny games that make a phone a hive of entertainment and productivity (questionable, sometimes).

In the writing of this post, I went back and counted all the apps I have downloaded in the short space of one year: a grand total of 55. They are grouped accordingly: social media, puzzle, arcade, photography, reference, productivity and lifestyle. Others, such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook are all on my home screen. How many of my 55 apps do I actually make regular use of? Not many. Do I still feel the need to download more? Probably, yes!

What is it that has made apps such an integral part of our media and mobile landscape today? Time to explore…

Craig Wigginton, partner and telecommunications leader for Deloitte & Touche LLP, explains the phenomenon as such:

“As devices continue to add functionality, coupled with consumers increasingly learning about valuable apps, this can save them from carrying multiple devices and grant them better access to an array of media, entertainment and information. We expect far more people to download and use apps in the future, which will have a profound impact on smartphone sales.”

Personally, I see apps as having two functions: supporting the native functions on your phone (camera or GPS) or enhancing your mobile experience. They provide information and entertainment almost instantaneously. In my previous post about e-books, I spoke about our society’s love of instant gratification. The app certainly satisfies. I have my class timetable, tram timetable, weather, news and my horoscope all in one place. No need to open a newspaper, open my diary or turn on the TV. Everything is meant to be fast – of course this depends on your service provider – just generally, it is.

Apps have also opened a new world of computer and game design, allowing both creative and technologically driven individuals an outlet for expression. A new market for these services has emerged concurrently. One article I read even referenced an ‘app economy.’

However, apps rely on smartphones and while I consider myself fortunate enough to own one, many people do not. Many people also chose not to own one. The app culture and its products are therefore limited to one network, establishing an almost private media landscape. Traditional media forms, like newspapers, are far more inclusive and accessible.

Then, when working with mobile phones, there is a question whether you make a mobile website or mobile app? This is a tough business decision for many people trying to reach their target audience, challenging the way the present themselves online, on a device.

Check out a cool infographic that explains the dilemma here.

Lastly, apps play a large part in the debate surrounding new and traditional media, as they certainly make many traditional media forms redundant. Take the humble map for example.

In the end, it’s up to individual taste. I love apps and I certainly find them very useful but I can understand for many people they can be annoying or confusing (this writer thinks so). Apps seem as though they’re here to stay but we still need to think about their limiting nature, their role in business and accessibility.

For the full article quoted, click here.