MIAMI—A constructive attitude toward engaging with procurement people, a broader suite of integrated services, and a focus on real, measurable metrics are among the keys to securing new clients in a changing new business environment, according to speakers at the Independent PR Firms Forum, part of the Global Public Relations Summit taking place in Miami this week.
“The whole new business process has become very cumbersome,” says Kathy Cripps, president of the US Council of PR Firms. “Clients are more challenging. RFPs can be very onerous.” The Council has created an online RFP-builder tool, designed to help clients put together an RFP that focuses on strategic, value-added factors.
Julian Boulding of thenetworkone, panel sponsor, asked what is driving agency choice—“is it excellence or is it value?”—and also who is driving choice: procurement people or communications executive.
The Council of PR Firms has started to reach out to other industry groups—including the finance committee of the Association of National Advertisers—to understand what motivates procurement people, and now provides guidance to its member firms on how to meet their needs, and to push back against unreasonable requests.
But there was surprisingly little antipathy toward the procurement sector.
Lisa Vallee-Smith, founder of US technology firm Airfoil, said her attitude toward procurement had changed. “I used to look down my nose at RFPs and selling, as a big hassle. But we started to get on the radar of Microsoft’s procurement people and we have learned a tremendous amount from them…. I think independent PR firms have to have a procurement strategy, but ultimately it’s the relationship that matters; if you have a relationship with a purchasing decision-maker that is going to trump procurement.”
“In India, 70 or 80 percent of new business is still managed by the people who are running the campaigns,” said Nitin Mantri of Avian Media, although he acknowledged that procurement was increasingly involved in larger pitches.
Whether dealing with procurement people or communications professionals, the agency leaders on the panel saw several critical success factors.
Eduardo Vieira (pictured) of Agencia Ideal in Brazil says he thinks clients are looking for three things: good strategy, business results, and the right tools for the job.
All of the firms represented were diversifying a wider range of services, from practice areas such as public affairs to channel strategies such as digital to less traditional tools such as advertising—both online and in mainstream media.
As far as metrics are concerned, Boulding asked whether clients were still using advertising equivalency or other weak metrics.
“There are Indian and global clients who still look at advertising equivalency,” says Mantri. Vieira agreed, but added: “PR is made for changing behaviors and attitudes. We work with several metrics, including increased sales. If you can prove to your clients that PR can be a sales generator and not just a cost, you can change the conversation.”
“The one success characteristic for a client is mutual accountability,” said Vallee-Smith. “This is about setting metrics and making sure both the agency and the client are working together and adding value every step of the way.”