So the PR industry is hiring again, hurrah, but who exactly is going to manage this new wave of talent and teach them our ways, and do we even want to?
Just looking at the last few copywriting jobs we’ve had come in: a complete re-write of a careers’ website and a brochure to attract the best young talent – it’s clear things are on the up for our clients and finally for interns, with graduate recruitment in the UK at its highest since 2007.
For the past four years, I’ve run a London PR internship programme for a US university. In the past, it has often taken around six months to secure suitable internships for 15 or so MA students. But 2014 saw a marked increase in demand and they were snapped up in around three months, in fact I unearthed more great opportunities than I had interns. Hurrah!
But it occurred to me, who exactly is going to manage these bright young things and what will happen if we don’t?
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The present generation of account directors (ADs) grew up in the equivalent of war-time rationing, working with reduced client budgets, non-existent internal budgets and being forced to adopt a recession-based management style: cautious, risk averse and desperate to keep the account at all costs. Sounds like fun don’t it? Is it any wonder that agency ADs are moving in-house, looking for a saner, more stable environment, one that’s more conducive to seeing let alone raising a family? And with today’s trend for bulking up the corporate comms team set to continue in-house is only too glad to hire them.So not the ADs then.
We all know ‘a good account manager is hard to find,’ as Fergal Sharkey once meant to say, but these days they are rare beasties indeed. In fact anyone with two to five years’ experience is hard to find in any industry. Thanks to the recession we have skipped a hiring generation. Not only that, but for many years, training, development and general people investment have all been corners that were first to be cut. So those few who were recruited and managed to survive and thrive, were tough self-starters. Not necessarily the types to want to micro-manage or molly-coddle junior talent, they are much more likely to have their eyes on the prize of filling in an AD role.
So not the AMs then.
Give ‘Em Enough Rope
MEANWHILE: The PR business contributes £9.62bn to the UK economy, with agency revenues doubling in the last ten years – but what about the profits? It’s generally recognised that a healthy agency wants to be looking at a 15 – 20% margin, but the last figure I saw said in 2013, agencies was averaging around 10.6%. The cause was due to our fear of putting up our rates, and over-servicing reaching an industry average of 20%. In an effort to hang on to the account at all costs, over-worked and over-wrought ADs and thinly spread AMs have been giving away one hour in every five, just to keep everyone (apart from the CFO) ‘happy’.So do we want to pass this working model to the newbies, now the dark days are receding?
So could this be a recipe for Change?
· A thin upper and middle management layer with little time for micro management, structure and process.
· A business model that’s been coerced into giving it away.
· An influx of Generation Y emerging like butterflies into a boom time eco-climate, where risk is rewarded and disruption applauded. Recognised as the natural collaborators, masters of abstract and conceptual thinking. theis new genre of talent are highly ambitious, socially confident, relational, and the girls at least, highly organised – could this tech-savvy, upbeat, civic-minded, confident generation be the ones to reinvent us, rejuvenate us?
All The Young Punks
With a coincidental lack of hands on management, and so ample opportunity to enjoy the natural freedom they need to experiment and take a few risks, will this new wave of PR Punks be the ones to make us proud, a bt loud and profitable once more?
A modified version of this article and without all The Clash references, first appeared in PR Moment on 9th September 2014.
The third post courtesy of Eria Odhuba, a founder member of the team and our resident analyst relations guru:
In part one of this series, we looked at the reasons AR programs fail and what you need to do before speaking to analysts. In the part two we provided some metrics you should consider measuring and a few questions you need to think about to maximise the impact AR has on your marketing. And in this final part, we look at how to integrate your good work with analysts and your wider marketing activities, ensuring everything feeds into your overall business objectives…
Do people REALLY know what they will get from the description of your products or services?
Your problem: If you only offer services, this can be one of the hardest things to do correctly. How do you convince prospects to buy from you if it takes time to realise any major benefits? Are you confident that the way you have named or packaged what you sell clearly articulates the benefits that clients would get if they bought from you? If prospects don’t know what benefits they get from what is on offer, then price is all they’ll use to make purchase decisions. The impact on your bottom line is huge if your competitors package themselves much better than you do. Quite often, poor product packaging happens when marketing and sales teams don’t interact effectively.
How analysts can help: Analysts can provide guidance regarding product or service packaging as part of wider marketing efforts. Their unique insight into the various strategies used by competitors, means they can help build services around your unique perceived benefits (UPBs). They can also show you how to break services down into logical processes that are easy to follow and which, more importantly, clearly show what prospects will get.
Do you know your customers’ lifecycles and do you change the way you provide value to them over time?
Your problem: A customer lifecycle is the journey someone makes from the initial discovery of your products / services to being a client. It is important to understand lifecycles so that you manage client relationships effectively and tailor your messages or services accordingly.Marketers, therefore, always need to answer the following questions so that they add value to each stage of a customer lifecycle: What factors influence initial purchase decisions within specific niches? What do competitors offer? What end results do clients actually desire? What are the market / technology changes that impact the continued use, or upgrade, of specific technologies or services? Without this information, marketers will struggle to effectively manage each step of a typical customer lifecycle. For example, think of companies that have simply tried to renew contracts or upsell additional services without tracking client needs properly. Tales of woe after deals have been signed are common, and a lot of this is down to the inability to manage the various stages of customer or partner lifecycles effectively.
How analysts can help: When you are fighting day-to-day battles and trying to get quick wins to justify marketing budgets, it can be hard to step back and have a big picture view of whole lifecycles and the different engagement methods necessary to nurture early prospects or long-term clients. Getting independent feedback on how best to do so might not be something you have considered.How analysts can help: Analysts, especially those that have a good knowledge of licensing and contracts, can provide independent advice to companies to help them manage customer lifecycles better. Of course, the products and/or services you provide have to be spot on in the first place. However, given the fact that there is almost always an alternative choice that could be made, marketers should use industry analysts to stop customers getting fed up and looking elsewhere because their continually changing needs are not being met.
Are you using the right traditional and social media channels to communicate?
Your Problem:Every marketer knows they have to communicate through the media channels that their prospects and clients use to look for information.Your problem: Whatever media channel you use to generate leads, solidify thought leadership or remain top of clients’ minds, you need to know which ones the analysts use to share information. For example, you need to know whether you potentially lost a deal because of comments made by an analyst via a blog or online forum. The problem here for marketers is the perceived loss of control and the lack of resources to do this effectively. It can be tough to justify the time and effort given the tight budgets many marketing departments have. It all comes back to the feedback you collected from clients and prospects
How analysts can help: If prospects / clients are influenced by specific channels that analysts also use, then you need to make sure you engage with the analysts via the same channels (on top of regular briefings) so that you can positively influence their output. Commenting on their blogs and participating in discussions helps you understand the frustrations analysts have with technology vendors. It also means you engage with them more effectively and, hopefully, can convert them into advocates.In conclusion
AR is often seen as an add-on to marketing and PR activities that is hard to measure and whose budget is hard to defend. It can be tough to stick your neck out and plan long-term engagements when we are all judged on quick wins.
But, trust is a hard thing to come by now, and we are pretty cynical about most of the content and claims from many technology companies. Engaging wth analysts, earning ther respect and winning their support can deliver the esssential credibility factor into the marketing mix.
|I’m telling you, my AR campaign was this big!|
In part one of this series, we looked at the reasons AR programs fail and what you need to do before speaking to analysts. In this second part, we’ll look at some metrics you should consider measuring and a few questions you need to ask yourself to maximise the impact AR has on your marketing. This should help create the right foundation on which to build an effective AR programme.
Metrics to measure
If you don’t know your key marketing and sales metrics, how do you know what needs to improve? And if you don’t know what needs improving, then what is the point of doing AR? Typical metrics you need to know include:
1. Number of enquiries for a product or service;
2. Number of referrals made by existing customers or partners;
3. Percentage of enquiries and referrals converted into RFPs;
4. Typical lead response times;
5. Number of RFPs that convert into actual sales;
6. Number of active customers;
7. Total spend per active customer;
8. Customer churn rates;
9. Gross revenue;
10. Gross profit;
11. Marketing costs;
12. Marketing costs per enquiry;
13. Marketing costs as a % of gross profit;
14. Cost of sales (i.e. cost of converting RFPs into actual clients);
Once you have this information and can pass it along to your analysts, it is easier for them to compare you with competitors and work with you to identify specific activities or messages that need to be improved. Tap into their knowledge of industry go-to-market, partnership and channel strategies. Use their unique insight into competitor or industry-wide metrics to test how well you are doing. Most of the time, all you have to do is position your company more clearly in your target markets. If the analysts don’t believe your messages resonate with the needs of your prospects, you will need to keep tweaking;
The key marketing metric take-away is this: analysts can only help you improve your marketing and sales metrics if you measure them properly in the first place.
Is what you say you do what people think you do?
The key consideration here is that in order to develop an accurate representation of your company’s technology or services, you must first get the right feedback from customers, independent influencers and your employees.
To do this properly, you need to have a well-defined process in place to ask the right people the right questions, store the answers and provide easy access to anyone developing marketing strategies.
When approaching customers for feedback, you need to try and get them to do so based on a full understanding of the key competitive options available. You need to understand why they bought from you but might not do so again, or what their biggest frustrations are with vendors in your sector(s). Finally, you must understand where they look for information and how they make purchase decisions as this can help you direct resources to the most appropriate channels.
The feedback from your employees should be consistent across the various teams. There is nothing worse than having the sales and marketing teams disagree on the best action to take to generate leads or because of internal feuds.
Finally, all this feedback needs to be independently analysed or verified. This is where analysts are important. They should be used to sanity check feedback and company-led competitor research. They will compare it with opinions they get from end-users or your competitors. Based on this, they can advise you on how to use the feedback to change your product or service strategies.
Are you talking to the right people?
This is all about marketing to specific niches / target markets so that you maximise your marketing resources.
The people you target should want what you offer and be actively looking for a solution to specific problems that you can provide. More importantly, they should have the money to buy from you and be easily reached by your marketing efforts.
TAnalysts have a good knowledge of potential target markets and will give you advice on how best to reach out to them. They know the drivers and trends that impact purchase decisions. Though bound by client confidentiality, their inside knowledge should be tapped to re-focus your marketing messages and tactics. Analysts also monitor regulatory and industry trends and will suggest markets to consider that you might have ignored.
Post script: These three AR posts have proved pretty popular. So we’ve put them together, ripped out the fluff, given it a bit of structure and turned them into a whitepaper, which you are welcome to download here:
The first post courtesy of Eria Odhuba, a founder member of the collective and our resident analyst relations guru:
There are many reports about how to conduct an analyst relations (AR) programme and you can also follow discussions on various LinkedIn groups too. Many of these cover some common areas, such as how to provide a good briefing or how to track and tier analysts. Yet some people find it difficult to measure the impact AR has on the bottom line and as a result, AR can be seen by the board simply as a cost centre with marketing teams struggling to extract and prove its value.
In this three-part series, we will look at how to integrate your good work with analysts and your analyst work with wider marketing activities, ensuring everything feeds into your overall objectives.
What defines a successful AR programme?
Successful AR programs use analysts to improve lead generation, shorten sales cycles and retain customers. That’s basically it!
When managing AR, companies should avoid briefing analysts simply with the short term aim of receiving positive feedback or a quote for a press release. Success has to have a positive effect on a company’s bottom line.
Look at the bigger picture: Analysts influence purchase decisions, through their reports, through a recommendation or as a result of help given by analysts to position a company more effectively within its target market.
In a successful AR programme, marketing and sales teams work closely together. They involve analysts in the different steps of their mutually supportive strategies and ensure analyst feedback is shared internally with specific action resulting in more competitive positioning and compelling messaging, with customer focused products and services.
Give your AR programme a health check
- Are you only looking only for the endorsement or quote;
- Are you focused on one-off engagements rather than building a relationship;
- You are deprived of the time, expertise or resources required to run a measurable programme;
- Are the briefings timed around your news or the analyst research or events?
- Are you lumping anaylsts in withthe press – assuming one approach fits all?
- Are you taking time to fully prep for a briefing?
- Are you sharing the analyst feedback internally?
- Is your AR programme synched up with lead gen and sales activities.
Symptoms of an ailing AR programme
- · Difficulty forming an approach for new target markets as lack of independent insight;
- Outdated knowledge of key business or legislative drivers;
- Assumptions have to be made of what drives competitive success without independent testing;
- Limited ideas for possible partnership strategies;
- Limited channel knowledge and insights into where prospects look for information resulting in no new routes to market
- Poor understanding if company messaging are resonating due to an absence of message testing strategies.
Check list to get your AR programme back in shape
- Be clear what you want to get out of an AR programme. Raising awareness is all well and good but if it does not result in more leads or better client retention, then you need to change it;
- Get stakeholder buy in. Train spokespeople and teams about the value analysts provide;
- Develop proper metrics. Measuring briefing numbers and report mentions, running perception audits or getting placed in various analyst rating scales is all good. However, if there is no positive impact on the bottom line then you need to change your rethink the metrics you use;
- Define and target the right experts. Think about individual analysts and not just the firms they work for. Find out how they get information and influence decision-making processes. Don’t forget analysts from small or niche firms as they may have a unique market impact that you could leverage;
- Plan regular engagements to gain trust instead of one-off jobs every year, such as at events. Be prepared to follow up with information that actually helps an analyst with their research.
Post script: These three AR posts have proved pretty popular. So we’ve put them together, ripped out the fluff, given it a bit of structure and turned them into a whitepaper, which you are welcome to download here:
This post is brief as it is in fact just a shameless plug to say, now it’s official, we exist!
In going live we now have a home for our recently formed small collective of senior comms freelancers, to demonstate their love of B2B technology and our honed range of skill sets, PR, AR, social, content and design.
It’s been nearly two and a half years now since I turned freelance so the collective feels like a natural evolution for me. It’s going to be great for our clients who might be looking for a more robust comms solution than a lone freelancer but who don’t have the appetite nor the budget for the full blown agency commitment, and great for us as we get to collaborate, support and inspire each other while delivering to our strengths. We’re going to be sharing the work the responsibility the money and the love!
It’s taken us forever to get the site together least that’s how it feels to a girl who goes long on ‘genius’ ideas and falls short on patience. But we are live now and despite the fact I’ve been immortalized in Ugg boots, I could not be more proud…
How not to give away your work as a PR freelancer:
|enough with the nibbling –
you’re killing me man, you’re killing me
The last two posts, looked at how to calculate your basement rate ( how much do you need to charge to survive) and your ceiling rate, (what the market will bear). Hopefully the first calculation is lower than the second one, if not please stop reading this now and use this time to send out your resume. You’re are not going to be able to make it work as a freelancer.This post briefly covers what factors to consider when contemplating discounting your work.
Reasonable reasons to discount
- Do you know them? Sounds obvious but if you know them already, then proving you’re the right person for the job, aka pitching and then over-servicing, shouldn’t take too long as your immaculate reputation will proceed you. So the time you save in not going OTT in the early months can be passed on in a discounted rate for the same period. (not indefinitely)
- Do you know and like them? By that I mean do you know that they are really easy to work with? That your judgement is valued, that the client will take risks, that emails can be six words long (and four of those spelled incorrectly), that decisions are made in real-time and it’s OK to vent rather than labouring over such a delicately worded email you might as well have crocheted it. (This is my idea of a perfect client, I concede you may have a different set of selection criteria.) If you have a perfect client, then treasure them, working with them is a pleasure and you’re rate should reflect that.
- Is it something that will help you grow? OK so moving into an adjacent sector, expanding your skill set, working with a client that you can learn much from, these are all reasons to invest in your portfolio and discount.( again just for a while say six months while you ‘come up to speed’).
Just double check the sum total of all these discounts isn’t lower than your basement rate and for every client you take on that skims or even dips below that rate you need to take one with a higher yield, remember this always has to be win/win.
Rubbish reasons to discount:
- You’re really broke: So you’re staring at your laptop, willing for that one email to arrive, that will put a smile on your face and some cash into your account. But when it comes, (and it will) think carefully about pricing. It’s so tempting to come in really low, ‘cos you’re desperate. But what does it say about the value of your work? As scary as it is, put in the right price, that reflects the skill and effort involved to do a great job. Yes, you may end up negotiating down, but no one ever gets to negotiate up.
- They’re really broke: Whether they’re those sparkly eyed start-ups or family friends, those customers that really, really want to work with you, but have no money… FYI they’re not customers, they’re window shoppers. So move them along and find someone to work with that can treat you with the respect you’ve earned. And with the money generated from real work for real customers you can afford to buy the sparkly eyed start-up or the family friend a pint – or three if they really do need your support.
- Discounted trial projects: Not convinced myself. You need to be hanging out with people that know how to be professional in business, after all you have to represent them. If they come across as timid amateurs to you then that’s how thy are going to come across to press.
Doing it for free
I hate working on the cheap, feeling like someone has got something over on me, de-valued my contribution – but I love working for free. One of the best bits about working for yourself, is being able to contribute your skills and expertise to a cause you believe in and make a small difference in the world. Maybe it’s providing your professional services to a cause, or painting fences or washing out kennels. But if you’ve managed your finances and time sensibly, then you can afford to give it away and come home with your pockets full of physic income and your conscience having had a spa day.Image courtesy of wallpaper.com
What the market will bear
Following on from my last post, which looked at how to calculate your bottom line day rate as a freelancer, this one looks at the ceiling day rate.
My child’s first bakes sale, he was about seven and asked to make scones.
|Elliot now a
Master scone maker &
First stop, so what are local freelancers charging? Here’s a jan 2010 survery that I found that might be helpful, and this on a freelance website, but I’m not sure how fresh it is. Do they compare to you and your skills? Make sure these are valid, long term freelancers/independents. It’s a competitive market out there, but if people are offering to work for ‘silly money’ like you see on the bid sites, are you really going to compete with them, what are you competing for? To see who can go bust first?
- 1 -3 years PR experience – account exec: Support role – admin, research, supervised outreach, supervised content creation, no direct reports ( not sure this is a good time to go freelance myself unless you have very low out goings), reports to account manager.
- 3 – 6 years PR experience – account manager: Implementation role, heads up tactics, main outreach person, day to day client go to person, directly manages juniors, reports to account director. Possibly knows the account better than anyone else.
- 6 – 8 years PR experience – account director, lead role, heads up strategy, leads client relationships, oversees budgeting, heavily involved in pitching, manages account managers, reports to group account director/director. Tasked with making money.
- 8+ years PR experience – group account director, senior account director etc – same as above but entrusted with more clients, more accounts, bigger budgets, bigger teams, and some development initiatives, reports to director.
- 10+ years of experience – director, running division, sits on key strategic accounts, leads new business drives, develops new services/territories, leads team, responsible for financial health of division, runs P&L, reports to CEO. Tasked with making profit.
Once you can map your role to an agency hierarchy, find out the local day rates for this role. Then to my mind you don’t just round your rate down, but you slash it. You don’t have the group expertise or the combined reach of an agency, also you don’t have the overheads. I tend to charge under half as this makes me viable for agency work too.
The bitter pill
Now you compare your market research to your notional day rate If your notional day rate tops the market rates, you have a problem. Really why is any one going to hire you in this climate if they can tap into the same services and expertise elsewhere for less? And if you take on a loss leader project, there is only one of you, while you’re not making enough money, there is no one else to make any money at all. Every day you work at the ‘wrong rate’ only puts even more pressure on the other days to over price. You need to think long and hard about how you are going to make this work. Possibly this is not the right time in your career to go freelance, mayber you need more skills/experience, so you can charge a stronger day rate or you need to wait until there is a time in your life when you don’t need to earn quite so much (eg the mortgage isn’t making your eyes water, the kids day care bills aren’t making you wish you’d got a dog instead.).
The sweet spot
The sweet spot for a freelancer is having a low cost base and a high/in demand skills base. If your notional day rate is at the low end of the market rate scale, you’re looking at win/win, you can round up your notional rate, still be extremely competitive and know you are going to be earning enough to be able to sustain the freelance life over the longer term. Who knows perhaps you can develop a side line in home-baked goods too…
If you are good with words, I’ve noticed, sooner or later you need to get good with maths.The first of three posts looking at how to price up your freelance comms work.
|But I need it, I really need it.|
This gives you your base line figure of what you need to clear after tax. For easy maths’ sake lets say that’s a £1,500 a month so £18,000 a year. So how does that convert to a day rate?Step 2) How many days in the year do you have to earn it?Answer: it’s not 365, though this is where you start.
Days in the year 365
Less main public holidays 5
Less weekends 104 (don’t actually schedule to work weekends)
Less holidays/family/emergency days 25
Less sick/jet lag/ hangover days 12 ( just being realistic)
Days available to work 220 ( standard industry figure)
Now assume that 50% of that time you are not doing client work, either because there just isn’t any, or because you are working but not being ‘paid’ for it, eg admin, networking, training, research, marketing, pitching, preparing materials etc. That leaves 110 days to cover your budget, plus tax plus expenses.
Step 3) Not all that money is yours you know.Tax and expenses.
£25,200 /110 days = £229/day notional day rate.
It’s been six months since Sam Howard turned freelance. If you are contemplating ‘the big leap’ here are her early days tips, while the pain of learning them is still fresh:
1) Take a break before you begin: Contrary to what I was advised, I recommend you do not quit your day job on a Thursday and start your first contract on the Friday. I think I would have been more able to absorb the culture shock if I had allowed a month in between. Ideally a couple of weeks of doing NOTHING, after 22 plus years of ‘real’ work, I guess I could have cut myself some slack there. And then the next few weeks can be spent sorting out behind the scenes stuff and not just the paperwork but the basics like a comfy chair, stationary etc.
2) Apply some discipline to the financials: To quote Jessie J ‘it’s not about the money’. I knew that from the get go, but it’s quite tricky to unhook your real worth from your ‘take home’. Let it go, you are not your agency day rate or your old job title. You are so much more and being a freelancer gives you the space to explore it. But to avoid the feast or famine syndrome that everyone warns you about, set up a separate bank account, tip some cash in to it to ease yourself in, say three months of a notional wage. You’ll have enough to adjust to, without worrying about money from day one. Keep all your business outgoings and income in this one account, from this you can transfer an appropriate amount for tax into a savings account and also pull a regular wage so you can continue to budget as you did when you were employed.
3) Don’t underestimate how long tasks are going to take:One of the biggest shockers I found was that there was no one to whom I could delegate. I was so delighted that the decision making process was now instantaneous, but all the time savings made on that side were swallowed up by the implementation process now that it was just me to execute. I had to relearn skills I had abandoned years ago, like formatting, attention to detail, spelling…
4) Get out and talk to people: My first project was initially difficult and intense, that compounded with no team support or general water cooler chitchat meant I did feel overwhelmed at first. I quickly made a point of meeting an industry mate at least a couple of times a week to help keep my own trials and tribulations in context.
5) Dress the part: After a few months of looking like Bridget Jones in the throes of a messy divorce, I smartened up. For me the standard that works best is to dress as if you have a mild crush on the postman. Oh and you’ll have to schedule some regular exercise too, if you’re gonna have a chance with that postman.
6) Don’t be mean with yourself: I wish now I hadn’t bought a basic printer, trotting off to newsagents to pay for photocopies or coloured printouts, pains me man, it pains me. Also my dining room table is not the right height for a desk and sooner or later I am going to have to come to terms with this.
7) Find your natural rhythm: After so many years working Monday to Friday 9- 5 it’s natural to feel obliged to keep it up, but being a freelancer you can set your own rhythm. Mine follows the sun, if it’s sunny I do less, if it’s not I do more. Family commitments not withstanding, I’m happy to work in the evenings or weekends, if it means that when the sun comes out I can potter in the garden, keeping a squinty eye on the emails. Let go of the guilt. As long as you get the work done and it delivers above, beyond and ahead of your client expectations, then really you can please yourself when and how you do it.
8) Stay in the loop: Now you’re not part of the company chatter, you need to put extra effort into keeping up with what the industry is talking about and what’s trending. Make time in your daily schedule to read, comment and connect. Also go to conferences, training seminar’s etc, not just to network but to actually learn and assimilate.
9) Try to hold out for interesting projects:This has to be a huge plus of going freelance, work for people you like, take remits you enjoy. This is pay back for all those years of doing tasks to which you were painfully unsuited and having to work with people that normally you’d cross the street to avoid. You’ll end up doing such a great job you can easily widen the remit and referrals will surely follow.
10) Finally enjoy being nice to people! When you go freelance there are no power battles to win, no points to prove, no office politics to survive, you can just hang up your battered old ego and be nice. It feels great, really! And who knew people could be so responsive when you show some genuine consideration for their day and their challenges? Certainly not I.