The eternal struggle to balance process with results

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car-mired-in-mudBy Leo Valiquette

Back in the day when I was a full-time journalist, I would often rouse the ire of hired PR guns by daring to contact their clients directly.

I mean, the sheer gall I displayed by responding with such enthusiasm to whatever pitch or media release they had sent my way.

As a busy hack trying to pump out a dozen news briefs a day, it only made sense for me to take what seemed to be the most direct route to get a source on the phone as quickly as possible. If I had to go through a middle man, then fine; if not, why bother?

And here I am today, one of those PR guns, often sharing the bottom of a client’s media release with one of the client’s own communications people. Who should the media call? Either one of us is fair game. In the end, it’s the result that matters. I am much more concerned with the thud value of a pile of media coverage than nitpicking over who the media called to arrange the interview.

Last week was a perfect example. We did a media launch for a client that followed our usual MO. First, we distributed the release via email to a list of target media we believed should have some interest in the story. In this case, that list totalled almost 300 French and English media contacts across Canada.

But when the media release goes out, that’s when the real work begins. I followed this up with direct outreach to two dozen of these media contacts who I had deemed “Tier One.” In this instance, these were national business technology and trade media, major daily newspapers and syndicated news services.

Given that it was late August, I wasn’t surprised when my efforts resulted in a lot of OOO alerts and voicemail. Many people were still on vacation, while their peers were busy trying to cover the absences. And when it comes to mainstream media, it never helps when some other major news story is also about to break – like whether American missiles were about to ruin Bashar al-Assad’s weekend.

After grinding away for several hours, I touched base with that other person I had shared the bottom of the release with, our client’s communications manager. Not only had she been fielding a pile of interview requests from more regional media outlets that had been on our email distribution, but many of the Tier One media I had left messages with had responded by going directly to her rather than through me.

I suppose a more thin-skinned individual may have found this bruising to the ego, or found reason to fear they were failing to justify their existence. But as far as I’m concerned, as long as media are responding in some positive fashion, it’s all good. If I’ve done my job well, the right people were on that email distribution and suitably enticing followup messages had been left with our Tier One targets. That I had provoked them to act was more important than how they chose to act.

Accountability is what matters

That’s not to say that having in place a clear process, or a clear workflow, isn’t a critical element of any service provider-client relationship. Before a media release or a pitch can exit the outbox, there has to be a process to govern the crafting of the message. When the client organization has several levels of decision makers who must each have their say and their chance to grant approval, a clear process is crucial to keep things moving along.

The challenge arises when conformity to process is a hindrance to progress. I’ve seen that with past clients. One example involved lining up reference customers to speak with the media. The client’s marketing manager required me to grill the journalist and the reference customer to complete a two-page form that looked like an application for top-secret security clearance, before either party was allowed anywhere near each other.

Despite appearances, the process here wasn’t really about ensuring the journalist and the reference customer were well briefed about each other before having a call. Instead, it was about pandering to the marketing manager’s micro-manager style and reluctance to let us hired guns take control of the process we had supposedly been hired to manage.

The result? An emphasis on process ahead of results. And hired guns who struggle to show results because they’re mired by clients’ processes may find themselves in a tenuous position when their contracts are up for renewal.

With any marketing or public relations engagement between a client organization and a consultancy for hire, the most important word for managing the relationship isn’t process, it’s accountability.

Consider what it is that you are really working toward, whether it’s media coverage, social media traction, or that new marketing collateral for the sales team. What is the objective, the goal, the desired outcome? What do you need to reach it? How can you make sure the path to it is as streamlined and efficient as possible?

Define the desired result then work backward to chart out the most direct path that will bring you to it. Anything that smells of process and hinders progress is best tossed into the ditch.

Image: Encore Editions

 

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