Running an agency today is already a pretty interesting proposition. Make that a virtual agency, and you're sure everyone needs to be on their best communicative and disciplined self for it to work well. Read on to learn why.
Meet Christine Perkett, President and Founder of PerkettPR, Inc., the virtual agency. Christine, who I met at a tweet-up in Boston a couple of years ago, is an active blogger for work, and is not afraid to get personal.
Find her on Twitter and gain some insights from her story and accomplishments here.
Tell me a little bit about you and how you came to start PerkettPR, the virtual agency. I admit the concept intrigues me. With ubiquitous access, we shouldn't need to converge in an office to be productive. What has been your biggest challenge with that arrangement to date, if any?
And, due to the overwhelming success of the tech PR industry at the time, those “senior” executives - managing teams, creating strategies and leading accounts - often had only 3-5 years of experience under their belt, and the junior executives – those calling the media and writing content that represented clients – were executing the day-to-day work.
This led to unhappy clients, frustrated influencers (like media) and a lot of wasted money. I thought there had to be a better model – most PR executives I know got into PR for specific reasons related to the actual work of PR... Not just managing people.
My biggest challenge, honestly, has been getting our staff to close the door at the end of the day. Having your office with you at all times really blurs the lines. I don’t want my staff to burn out – so getting them to stop working is always the biggest challenge! I want them to have a great work/life balance and stay here a long, long time.
A lot of people expect our challenge to be communication or ensuring people are working. If anything, we over communicate (and we actually see each other quite often) and it’s been very, very obvious in our line of work when people aren’t executing. That’s never been a problem.
Given your experience with PR, branding, and social media, you should be well positioned with what's next. Do you see a better future in PR?
Christine: Absolutely. Here are some of the biggest historical complaints about PR:
- PR executives don’t pay attention to what influencers need, want or care about (from media to company’s customers, analysts, VCs and beyond)
- PR executives just blast information and don’t truly think or care about what they’re saying or to whom they’re saying it
- PR executives don’t truly understand their client’s (or company’s) products, services or bigger company goals
The problem is that I don’t think it’s the individual executives so much as it is PR agencies as a whole. The fundamental problem comes down to how agencies make money – by billing as many hours as possible across multiple clients. This means that agency associates are often pressured to churn out lists of who they’ve pitched – and both agency executives and clients have historically wanted those lists to be long and wide – not short and focused. That parlays into poor performance because executives are trying to turn our more work – not necessarily quality work.
With new PR – call it PR 2.0, social marketing, what have you – we are all showing our work more openly – no more hiding behind private emails, fax machines or one-one phone calls. If you’re not engaging with influencers beyond when you need something, you won’t be effective. And that’s a good thing.
You're an active participant in blogs and Twitter. Have you found the experience fulfilling? How much does your direct involvement help you feel you understand social media dynamics well enough to explain them to the agency customers?
I absolutely believe that my direct involvement – and that of our managers - helps our entire company understand the dynamics and how to best use social media for clients. Again, a classic complaint about PR agencies is that senior –level executives are only present in the board room and lose touch with the actual work.
I would never be comfortable sitting in a board room trying to sell a belief or a practice to clients that I haven’t personally invested in, tested, understand or believe in. That’s just me. I think it also helps me to be a better leader – I understand the challenges and opportunities that my staff faces, and we can therefore work together collectively to solve problems. It’s how we work best on every element of what we deliver for clients – not just how we integrate social media.
Credibility and value are the currency of social media. Companies are struggling to figure this one out, especially those that are used to think in terms of their messages. You have an advantage over internal resources in companies: as an outsider, your advice may be followed. How does PerkettPR you work with companies to help them build better relationships with their customers?
Traditional marketing strategies used push-messaging rather than an ongoing dialogue – and it worked for many years – but social media demands an ongoing dialogue. So it’s been a tough mental transition for companies to make. They have a hard time understanding that social media is a build up – and an ongoing effort - to the ROI they so quickly want to see.
The first thing we ask customers is “What are your business goals?” We don’t ask about their social media goals. Too many companies just want to get “into social media” because they’ve heard it’s the latest and greatest thing in marketing, the buzz is all about social media, etc. But if you don’t tie marketing efforts – social media or otherwise - to business goals, it’s a moot point. It seems to me businesses lose sight of that because they get caught up in the buzz factor right now.
In addition, not all social media is created equal. Perhaps you create an entity on Twitter but none of your customers, prospects, partners or influencers are there. Then it’s not the right social community for your business.
There are social networks that will be right for you – but they might not be the ones you read about in The New York Times every day. And that’s okay – again, keep your business goals in mind first, and build from there. Don’t get swept away by a “social media guru” who comes in and tells you that you need to be on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin – unless they have strategic reasons that tie to an understanding of your business, your goals and your long term strategy.
What do you think is in store for agencies in the next 3-5 years? Will PR agencies rethink their dependency on mainstream media? How is Perkett PR integrating bloggers in its media outreach?
The work is up for grabs right now for companies/agencies that understand how to create an overarching strategy that’s integrated: PR, marketing, social media, digital content, etc. For example, a “speaker’s bureau” these days go way beyond pitching and securing physical speaking opportunities for clients. It’s an ongoing, online and offline opportunity – and understanding how to integrate those to extend the ROI is key.
Media will always matter to PR professionals (I count bloggers in that) - but the great thing about social media is that we don’t have to only depend on such influencers to validate our clients’ technologies, companies, products and services. We can help clients to craft messages and distribute content directly to customers and prospects and that’s an incredibly exciting opportunity.
Because of this opportunity, PR agencies need to understand more than ever why messages matter – not just the conduit to deliver them! You can post videos, Twitter campaigns, Facebook chats and more – but if the messages and content aren’t compelling, again, it’s a moot point.
PR executives (the good ones) are great story tellers – they need to get back to those roots and really grab the opportunities to tell great stories for clients in a multitude of ways – not just to the media anymore.
What is your personal secret sauce? How do you influence your colleagues and team?
I’ve got a wonderful core team that stays here and really, really works hard in ways that surprise me every single day. They know that I will do everything I can to treat them well – even to the extent of ending relationships that aren’t right with clients – say, if they’re being mistreated or taken advantage of, for example.
Secondly, trusting my instincts. I have never regretted trusting my instincts – but I have regretted not listening to them and realizing that I should have all along.
Integrity has served me well not only in leadership and business operations but in PR/marketing. People appreciate marketers with integrity and sincerity - and it makes the job that much more rewarding to believe in what you're doing and to be truly, honestly be able to stand behind your work with pride.
Who would be your ideal client?
That being said, our ideal client believes in us, trusts us, doesn’t want us to be yes men and has a sense of humor. They work hard and play hard, just like we do. Most importantly, they work with us closely as a team – sharing information and involving us in their business (customer conferences, sales meetings, c-level discussions, etc.) so that we can make the absolute best recommendations for their marketing, PR and social media efforts.
Great communicators can’t work in a vacuum – too many companies forget this and don’t communicate well with, or trust, their agencies.
Any great relationship involves these elements: trust, communication, mutual respect and passion. That’s our ideal client relationship.
Why companies aren't adapting their environments to welcome the new connected individuals, yet is a puzzler. What Christine says here about the ideal client applies to the ideal working relationship overall.