Monthly Archives: October 2017

Value of an Agency: Partner or Supplier?

Partner or Supplier?

Simon Brown, Account Director

It’s been an interesting few months for me having recently made the move to the other side of the desk and back into agency life. After six years running the PR and communications for Costcutter Supermarkets Group, I took the decision to check out and take a fresh challenge with Acceleris.

Having spent all of my pre-Costcutter career in agencies this was a move that I made with plenty of ‘inside information’ about the workings of agencies. And it’s this experience, coupled with my learnings in-house, that I hope I can use to offer an alternative point of view on how agencies and businesses need to work together to deliver the best results.

I never imagined that I’d one day quote the New Radicals song You get what you give to make a point about how working relationships should work, but there you have it. As well as topping the charts in Canada and New Zealand, it seems Gregg Alexander has hit the nail on the head, highlighting that these relationships cannot just be one way.

A real bugbear of mine working in previous agencies was that it could feel a bit disconnected from the clients. Not geographically, although I was working for companies all over the UK, but disconnected from the heartbeat of their business, the strategic reasoning behind a chosen course of action, the real ‘why are we doing this?’. The agency would deliver against the brief and generate some great results, but it could feel a bit detached and, beyond a few predetermined metrics to define success, it was often difficult to determine the real value that we had added.

In-house couldn’t be more of a polar opposite, with total immersion from day one. In my particular situation I was the only PR person in the business, with all eyes on me for the creation and delivery of the PR strategy. This situation quickly led me to ask the question, why would a business keep their agencies at arm’s length? After all, I faced the challenge of delivering the PR activity for the business, on my own. When I did secure budget to bring in external support it had to be done in a way that would give the business, and me, the absolute best chance of success.

In my opinion there are two types of agency relationships – the Supplier and the Partner. As you might have guessed I favour the partner approach and this is certainly how I tried to do things at Costcutter. Retail is an exceptionally fast moving industry, convenience even more so with many changes in the sector over the last few years and more to come as signalled by the various deals and mergers that are underway. This brought with it a seemingly endless run of communications requirements – both opportunities and challenges to be managed. Keeping my specialist communications advisors at arm’s length and briefing them on a project by project basis simply wouldn’t have worked.

By being open with your agency and giving them the ‘big picture’, warts and all, they can analyse the current situation and the road ahead and then present their expert advice. Having this open stance with your advisors will deliver better results. One of the many idioms doing the rounds describes communications as a ‘journey’ and while I am not usually a fan of such corporate jargon it’s as good a description as any for how to approach strategic communications. In the same way that a business wouldn’t expect to deliver its entire strategy in one go, communications is a journey that your audiences need to be taken on. It won’t be a flat straight road and there will be plenty of ups and downs, so giving your agency the big picture will enable them to give really meaningful advice and create plans that deliver for the long term. After all, that’s what they do and what you pay them for.

Businesses surround themselves with trusted advisors to help deliver their strategy. Lawyers, accountants, business consultants, growth strategists and HR advisors are all consulted, and rightly so. They are experts in their field and will help shape the future direction of the business, identify the opportunities and put the resource in place to deliver it. Communications advisors are experts too, yet many businesses don’t place similar importance on the need to embed communications into their strategy or view their agencies as trusted advisors.

So, having moved back into agency am I faced with the same bugbear of old? Absolutely not. A good friend of mine often reminds me that people buy people and so as much as Acceleris did its homework before appointing me, I also did mine. Acceleris is very proud of the relationships it has with its clients and through the delivery of sound, insight-based advice it is a trusted advisor to its clients. A partner in creating communications strategies that deliver the right result.

“Communications is a journey that your audiences need to be taken on.”

Got a rep’ to protect? Top tips for reputation protection

 

Lisa McGauley, Senior Account Manager at Acceleris

A company’s reputation is one of its greatest assets; if not its greatest. According to The 2017 UK Reputation Dividend Report, the combined value of corporate reputations of the 350 largest listed companies in the UK stood at £986bn in January 2017; which represents 39% of all shareholder value.

In the automotive industry, the ongoing VW emissions scandal – which, it is reported has cost Volkswagen as much as $25 billion – reports around the improper handling of damage claims by rental companies, and a new issue that has surfaced about the quality of Japanese metals used in vehicle production are all examples of current stories that may have rocked, or be rocking market confidence.

All of these highlight the importance of industry providers having a clear and comprehensive communications strategy in place. As part of this it is also vital to plan for any unexpected negative events or crises that may arise and to ensure you are on the front foot when the you-know-what hits the proverbial fan.

Here are some tips for achieving cut-through communications and being prepared for every eventuality:

  1. Boost your reputation: As well as the day-to-day task of building your reputation by positioning yourself as a thought leader and commenting on key industry issues, it is also important to share good news stories and celebrate success with the media – award wins, contract wins, investment news, key appointments, milestones and new product or service launches. Having a strong two-way dialogue with key media will pay dividends when you have to tell them something negative.
  2. Be prepared: Crises are by and large unexpected, but you can plan for them and by doing so help to minimise operational and reputational impact. Agree your spokespeople, rehearse the plan and make sure colleagues know who to escalate potentially negative issues to and when.
  3. The three Rs – Reason, Regret, Remedy: The impact and value of a simple statement of regret cannot be overstated – A simple statement of regret will demonstrate that the company and the senior team are humans and can empathise with the people directly affected by the crisis.

The specifics of each situation will vary and it will not always be possible or appropriate but a full and genuine apology delivered in a timely manner can be a powerful way to defuse criticism.

In the event of a crisis explain the facts of the situation as accurately and as early as possible. In the fast moving media environment it is important to take control and be seen to be the leading source of information about the crisis.

It is also important to explain what the company is doing to try and solve the problem and what the likely timescales involved will be. By providing as much detail as possible, the company will appear to be taking clear and decisive action and fulfilling its responsibilities to improve the situation.

  1. Be First, Frank and Fast: In a crisis it is essential to take control of the situation FIRST by acting swiftly and controlling the dissemination of consistent and accurate information to internal and external audiences. By acting first, the business will establish itself as leading the response to the crisis and as the primary source of information.

In the modern media and social media environment news and reaction can spread within minutes and it is essential that businesses react to this changing reality FAST. In a significant crisis, it is important to respond much more quickly and to work to the media’s schedule. Crisis planning and briefing members of staff in advance will be essential to enable a business to respond quickly in the event of a crisis.

Be FRANK. It is important to be as honest as possible in dealing with the media and the public. In the age of the 24 hours news cycle and social media nothing will stay secret and any attempts to cover up or hide bad news can make a crisis much worse and ruin any remaining goodwill towards the company.

As a final thought, when considering the value of corporate reputation, I think this quote sums it up perfectly:

“We can afford to lose money – even a lot of money. But we can’t afford to lose reputation – even a shred of reputation,” wrote Warren Buffett to managers.

If you need crisis communications support, look no further than our team of experts!

Did you know Acceleris has won the Issues and Reputation Management title at the European Excellence Awards three out of the last four years!

An Intern’s Insight into Acceleris

Hania Thompson, Intern at Acceleris

From The Pool to the Board Room – an Intern’s Insight

Work two jobs, it will be easy! That is what I told myself as I woke up at 5am to lifeguard for two hours before embarking on a two week internship at Acceleris. As I power walked up the Ripon Road that morning I nervously kept thinking about what I was going to be doing and what will everyone be like? However, as I walked into the foyer, over the quaint wooden bridge and up the winding stairs into the reception area I was quickly put at ease.

After being warmly greeted and given a brief tour I was promptly introduced to my ‘buddy’ Katie who quickly made sure I was put to work right away. There is nothing worse than starting somewhere new and not knowing what you are doing or supposed to be doing; however, I am pleased to say that this was not the case – thanks to my buddy. My first task was to read through the Yorkshire Post and pick out relevant stories and at 10:30 I felt very important as I attended my first meeting in the board room (thankfully I wasn’t fired!).

After graduating from Northumbria University in 2015 with a degree in Sport Management, the one question which many graduates ask is ‘shall I take a gap year?’ My answer to this was yes. After a ski season in the Swiss Alps, working in the USA and travelling around Western Australia I finally decided to ‘settle down’ and think about my future.

I had been interested in the marketing and PR side of my degree, which led me to exploring this area further – although I wasn’t entirely sure what this would involve. I was fortunate enough to be offered an internship after hearing about Acceleris from a friend – and the rest is history!

The last two weeks spent at Acceleris have flown by – the old saying ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ comes to mind! I was given a variety of tasks which ranged from designing social media graphics for various events and clients, writing press releases, blog writing, researching potential clients and constructing (many) spreadsheets.

My favourite job was designing social media graphics for different clients. I thoroughly enjoyed being creative and imaginative throughout the process. The last two weeks have really given me a flavour of what it is like to work in the world of PR. To make the experience even better I was made to feel welcomed and valued from the moment I stepped through the door and I could tell that the staff at Acceleris are an incredibly hard working and dedicate team.

At the end of my time here I found that PR is not so dissimilar from being a lifeguard after all. You complete all the training needed for your role; however, when you’re thrown in at the deep end on your first day, you never truly know how you’re going to react until the situation presents itself – whether this is trying to save someone’s life or handling a crisis on social media! As I impart my knowledge onto the next intern, the most important thing to say is to fling yourself into it, learn as much as you can whilst you have the chance and say yes to everything!

To see more on the opportunities Acceleris has for students and graduates, read about the Acceleris Academy here.