Is a PR Strategy a Tougher Sell to Clients than PR Tactics Are?

‘Why are PR clients needing help with the tactical rather than the strategic? Is this a tough sell?’

A former journalist who now has her own PR agency asked me this question the other day. I promised I’d answer her question in a blog post.

It’s not a tough sell at all – but you cannot sell someone pears when what they only want is apples.

A lot of clients have robust Comms/PR strategies. They know where they want to go, they know what results they seek and they also know what their in-house capabilities are versus what PR agencies can provide them.

There is a time, of course, to pitch your agency’s strategic comms support. This is best done when:

  • You’ve known them or worked directly with them for some time
  • You understand their sector, challenges and opportunities
  • You are trusted/respected by, as a minimum, their in-house Comms/PR team
  • You do most of the research on their behalf and are ready to make a cold call

I had a chat with an agency director this past Monday. To my surprise, a lot of the work they did had little to do with the conventional mainstream agency PR support. They provided their clients with something extra, in addition to the usual media relations services, social media campaigns or website content:

  • Introductions and connections
  • Access to funds

While these two services above fall more under the purview of management consultancies, the agencies who can think and provide “business first” are much more likely to become trusted business partners.

The issue with providing strategic PR advice and support is not necessarily related to notoriety or how large one agency is; it’s about your level of credibility, trust and competence to provide advice in that area, for that business.

For my clients, I’ve worked with and asked for pitches from various large and small agencies: the surprise I had (pleasant nonetheless) was that the small, local agencies understood the market and sector far better than the big ones; and, more to the point, they didn’t try to sell the moon in the sky when there was one ready to grab round the corner.

If you want more clients and more work to provide “strategic PR/Comms”, make sure you speak business (not just terminology) and do your homework very well.

In-house staff or various consultants will always challenge your suggestions not because they have something against you or don’t like you but, because, they want to test that you really know what you’re talking about and understand their business inside out.

They won’t be asking you about how many followers you can bring them, how optimised their posts/content will be, nor about how many interviews in the local/national/international media you can secure them.

They will be asking you:

  • Why should we do this?
  • What are the risks (short, medium and long term)?
  • What are the benefits of doing this (don’t even think about mentioning “coverage”, “likes” and “shares”)?
  • What other opportunities will this create? (answer in business terms, not PR)
  • What resources will you require to make this happen (don’t start with money first – think resources and expertise, access and documents)?
  • What KPIs and milestones do you envisage?

Each business strategy needs a detailed business plan or action plan; each Comms/PR strategy needs the same – we call it “tactics”. PR/Comms strategic support and advice are very different from a PR/Comms strategy.

Imagine you want to buy a new car. A Fiat (apologies to Fiat, there’s nothing wrong with your cars) dealership is next door to a Mercedes dealership. A Fiat costs £15,000 and it comes with all sorts of accessories and, pretty much, it can get you from A to B with not much fuss; it’s a car, and a car is all you need.

Mercedes, on the other hand, offers you more than a car – reliability, service, trust, expertise and so on. But a Mercedes costs £30,000 upwards.

Ask yourself this question: why would anyone buy a Mercedes when a Fiat would do? Then ask yourself these questions: what type of person (in your case, organisation) would buy a Mercedes instead of a Fiat and why?

The same analogy, more or less, applies to clients seeking much more tactical PR support/services than strategic ones.

You cannot, ever, sell/pitch a comms strategy unless you understand and know how your strategy will fit in/tie into the overall business strategy of that organisation – the question you have to ask yourself is “do you”?

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