As the global PR network world turns, some are gaining in numbers , offices, staff and capabilities, while others seem to be on the decline, notably Pinnacle, if you happened to read the latest O’Dwyer’s take on this PR phenomenon.
We won’t argue size otherwise, but at the end of the day, the client does not care which (network) is the biggest, but which is the best one for them and will it deliver. Yep, the proverbial bottom line and how success can be measured.
Joining a PR network is not an easy decision. You have to be invited to join, unless you can make a convincing case that your firm’s skills are non-pareil and you can fill a geographic void the network you are keen to join does not have. There should not be any pre-condition that business will flow your way by dint of becoming a network partner or member. In reality, this does not happen. It’s a myth, albeit a still prevailing one.
Who in their right mind would assign their business to a PR firm, never mind which network, that they do not know.
Much like the well-honed saw about how to get to Carnegie Hall – practice practice and practice – you can and will get business over time after you earn the trust of other network members, but you have to work at it. There are no guarantees either. This is a myth.
When I helped to found Worldcom eons ago and served as its group secretary for almost a decade, I saw that hard work, perseverance, attendance at group (and regional) meetings, willingness to lend a helping hand and offer case histories, a senior presence at a pitch or a necessary specialty that was not to be found with the lead firm in the pitch and knowing and trusting my partners made all of the difference.
Back when Worldcom was founded – there were only two other viable networks at the time (Pinnacle and IPREX) besides this new fledgling – and it took off because of dedicated people, a need to offer a different (PR) product – a better one, we argued – than the behemoth PR conglomerates and a level of trust seldom found elsewhere.
Combine these ingredients and we felt we had a winner. In time, Worldcom became the biggest consortium of independent PR firms out there. And, when it banded together to win the EC business over the bigs in its early days, we knew the formula worked.
Fast-forward to the present, there are arguably at least six international networks. All are probably good – ask the client being served – and offer many of the same specialties and capabilities as their peers. In certain markets, the network partner firm is the “big” in that city or region or has a well-earned reputation in a specialty field. Perhaps this is why the bigs have, over time, acquired more than their fair share of network members. Being acquired by a big is, after all, a good exit strategy. And, what better credential to toot your horn than by being a partner in a network that demands discipline, attendance at meetings, participation and getting vetted on a regular basis.
So, how do you maximize your ROI and get the business and not the shaft.
1. Interview network members to see if this is a right fit for you. Find out what happened to your predecessor in that city or region.
2. Look at the cost requirement for membership – i.e., annual network dues, regional dues (if any), conference costs – there will likely be a pro rata charge to your firm if you miss a meeting; initiation fee (one-time, if any) and ancillary charges.
3. Plan to attend the annual meeting and as many, if not all, mandated meetings. They are usually held in nice places that allows for combining with a vacation. Hmmm (ask your accountant about tax implications). At the same time and if your schedule allows, try to go to the conference city a few days earlier or stay later so that you can seek new business appointments with your local partner in tow. This alone strengthens their presence and yours and goes a long way to help secure business. It really works.
4. Exchange staff at all levels, if practical, for a week, two or longer. This builds camaraderie between the network firms, is a great incentive to your staff – one they will long remember and covet – and earns you trust.
5. Be responsive when you get an RFP or information, including case histories, a quick survey, research and the like is asked for. This will award you future points that won’t easily be forgotten.
6. Be inquisitive and persistent to ask if the RFP was successful (or not) and what helped you get (or lose) the business. Most firms don’t ask and are already onto the next hunt. This is a mistake and you are missing out on an important lesson to be learned.
7. Cut your losses if the network you are in has not realized your dreams or aspirations. But, if it has, seek elective office in it and get thoroughly immersed in the culture.
At the end of the day, developing friendships, confidence and trust will help yield business.
Andrew Edson is president and CEO of Andrew Edson & Associates, Inc., a New York and Florida-based PR and IR consultancy.