So You Just Botched Your One Job on Live TV

So how are you feeling if you're PwC right now? #PWC is a bloodbath. You're brand is being mocked. The corporate communications team that was hoping to push out some good news stories post-Oscars are hunkered down and working their crisis plan. At least I think that's what they are doing. They were prepared right?

They apologized for the mistake. That's a good first step. They are investigating what happened. That's a good step as well. Their apology is pinned to the top of their Twitter feed. That's good too. But the rest of the page completely ignores the ongoing controversy. Their website (at this time) is also mute on the subject.

So what should they be doing?

  • The investigation needs to be finished ASAP. Don't hire attorneys or investigators and make this a prolonged thing. Figuring out what happened shouldn't take forever.
  • Unless the mistake was deliberate, they should not fire anyone.
  • Be as transparent as possible, even if the results of the investigation are embarrassing.
  • Get an acknowledgment of the mistake and steps being taken up on your web page.
  • Get your talking points ready and available to all staff and work on your outreach to your existing client base.
  • Don't over react to the twitter trolls, but be vigilant in case the story starts moving from the facts. Be aggressive about combating any rumors or misinformation that may be out there.
  • The written apology is good, but get a video apology out there as well.

PwC can get through this but it will be tough. Be authentic, deliberate and completely transparent.

Tips for Pitching Me

There are going to be lots of people out there who will want the exact opposite of what I want. So, agency pro, beware. I can’t claim that all these tips will help you with every potential client.

1.The order where you pitch doesn’t matter. I’ve seen agencies that always want to go first, agencies that always want to go last, and those that don’t care. I always draw the names from a hat and the order is random. I’ve hired the first agency that I saw, the last that I saw and those in between. But if you make a huge deal about getting a particular slot, that’s going to matter. Just take the slot you’re given and move on.

2. I don’t want a ton of time in the pitch explaining my own problem to me. I know what my problem is. What I need is a creative way to solve it or a new way of thinking about the problem. If you try to impress me with how much you know about my problem, I’m going to tune out. I expect that you did research and have some idea about what I’m up against. The deeper you go in explaining it to me, the more likely you are to get some nuance wrong and that wrong assumption will lie in the middle of the floor like a dead bird that just hit the window. The bad thing is that you won’t know the dead bird is there. You’ll keep going on that wrong assumption and make it worse. That won’t matter at all to me. I know that you don’t know my business as well as I do. I know going into this that there is a period of adjustment and you’ll learn as much nuance on the topic as you need. But think about who else might be in the room and doesn’t know how agencies work. If I’ve got a scientist or other technical expert in the room, they will remind me about that mistake you made for the next five years, and it will confirm all of their worst fears about how agencies are just superficial task monkeys.

I’ve seen agencies go down in flames, not because of their ideas, but because they tried to show how much they knew, and they didn’t know enough or get the nuance right. There will be clients that want assurances that you know everything about them before you get in the room. I think that’s impossible and you should run away from that business because they will be nightmare clients. But you’ve got numbers to hit, so do what you have to do.

3. There is one important caveat to number two above. When you think I’m working on the wrong problem you need to flag that. If the RFP says that my problem is visibility and you determine that my visibility is actually pretty good, but that we’ve been off message or the wrong message, then you have to push back and get me on track.

4. Go easy on the promises. If you promise me particular types of coverage or amounts of coverage or traffic or that we can turn an issue around in 90, 120, 180 days or whatever, I’ll know that you are full of it. (I could go on forever about this one, but this is starting to get long.)

5. Go easy on the metrics. Look, if someone had invented the perfect metrics for PR programs and campaigns we’d have all heard about it and this person would be richer than Bill Gates. I don’t want to spend more than 10% of my budget on measurement and if my budget is under a million, I don’t want to even spend that much. I want to put as much budget into execution as possible.

6. I covered this in the last article, but don’t bring in people that I know I’m never going to see again. Sure we might have a strategy session or two with a former Senator. Great. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot. But we all know that they aren’t going to be servicing my account on a day-to-day basis.

7. Don’t bring me a Chinese menu. I will barely be able to conceal my contempt if what you bring me isn’t a real proposal, but is instead a laundry list of tactics (even if they are clever), try to read my reaction and stitch together a strategy on the fly based on which tactics the conversation revolves around.

8. Be careful about the timeframe that you propose. I want a long-term partnership, but I don’t want that assumption right out of the gate. If it’s a big lift, we might be talking about a two or even three year engagement. But I don’t want time frames drawn outside of the timeframes in the RFP.

That’s it. Other people are going to want different things. I can’t speak to those. I’ll wrap up with some failed pitch war stories.

Once an agency came to a pitch and said, “We didn’t bring a proposal. We just brought five brains to have a conversation with you and see if we could come to a shared approach to this.” Um, yeah.

In another pitch it was clear that part of the team had never looked at the proposal, thumbing through it and clearly reading it for the first time right in front of us. Maybe they thought we didn’t notice. We definitely noticed later when the person who clearly wrote the proposal and the people who hadn’t got into an argument about the merits of the proposal.

I once had an agency just not show up for their pitch. I had another come to pitch a day early. That was wild. I had to grab five people (not reviewing the pitches at all) so that we could have a meeting and review it. The agency felt horrible, but I’m not sure what else I could have done.

Lastly, I had one agency check in with me a week before a pitch. They ran their creative idea by me and I told them it wouldn’t work. It was more expensive than my budget would allow and it wasn’t on message. They came and pitched it anyway. I had a panel of five people besides myself reviewing pitches and it went down in flames. The other panelists tore them apart after the agency left and I just shrugged. I have no idea why some people do the things they do, but I did admire their Pickett’s Charge style courage.

Better Late Than Never with Social Media

While recently volunteering for an organization I was asked as the resident communications guy to review their digital crisis plan. “What,” I wondered, “is a digital crisis plan?”

Well, the organization had believed, correctly, that the most likely source for their next crisis would be from social media. Thus they had determined, we need a digital crisis plan.

There was nothing wrong with that thinking. In some ways social media IS the crisis. It is an ever evolving and powerful tool for disseminating your own messages, and in lightning speed it can drop a crisis in your lap. Never mind the increasingly common self-inflicted crisis.

The organization had done an impressive job with the plan. My advice was simple. Add in a few components to address problems that could arise from areas that do not involve social media. All you really need is a few lines here and there and you then have a full-fledged crisis communications plan. There is no need to separate a social media crisis from all the other types. In fact it’s this weird continuing notion, even in 2017, that social media is somehow still separate or an add-on to traditional communications that continues to confound some PR practitioners.

This isn’t the best analogy, but it’s my favorite and I’m the one writing this, so, deal with it. When film was invented people didn’t really know what to do with it. Making a movie was a bit of a strange notion. So what did people do? They relied on what they knew. They set up stage, they put the camera in the middle of the room so that you could see all of the action. They started filming and the actors did their thing. In the beginning they were just filming plays. Over time film cameras got a little smaller and directors started filming reaction shots, close ups and moving the cameras around to follow the action. Today we get movies like Birdman where the camera follows the actor continuously and we see the story from every angle.

When it comes to social media we’re just now barely moving from the era of just pointing the camera at a stage.

I’m 8-10 years late in observing that social media is not something separate from communications. It is communications and it’s a tool that needs to be better integrated, not something extra that those 20-somethings can figure out for us later. So why is this still happening?

Well, part of the reason this is still happening is because of how communications departments and PR agencies are organized. Instead of getting everyone trained in new media and new techniques, we just hired people with those new skills and gave them a desk. We didn’t force integration of these new skill sets with existing employees. Imagine that the press release was just being invented today. You have three media relations people and one press release writer and you never bothered to train the other staff how to write a release.

Having a media relations department and then hiring one new person with social media expertise is a recipe for disaster, yet most of us did just that. We thought that communications was like an assembly line where we could just add a new skill set and move on. That thinking has hurt the profession. Everyone in a communications organization needs to be trained and have their skills brought up to speed. Professionals of my age and older still seem to think that they can outsource this and that they don’t have to add these new channels to their skills and their thinking.

Organizations are finally catching on. I recently talked to one group that said, “we will never again hire a senior communications person who doesn’t know the difference between SEO and SEM.”

It’s this slow transition that communications organizations are making into new skills and techniques that has allowed what used to be digital marketing organizations to slowly take over more traditions communications and pr tasks. But article is for another day.