ITL #295 Quality of thought: a factory approach kills good PR5 years ago
Too many agencies put profit ahead of creativity while shepherding their people through low cost and often low value cookie-cutter training courses that don’t add any real value. By Guy Walsingham.
The world of B2B tech PR has changed dramatically over the last few years, impacting both sides of the industry – the organisations busy developing innovative products and the PR agencies they hire to help sell them.
With huge overheads and a need to fulfil the financial demands of shareholders, the larger PR agency groups are often under pressure. As a result, the drive for scale and profit is often put before creativity and original thought.
This growth of course brings the need to fulfil the work with junior employees – or worse, average people – hired simply to get the work done.
In many cases, the senior team pitching for a client isn’t actually the team delivering the work. Instead, it is farmed out to teams of poorly trained and loosely managed juniors, who simply don’t possess the level of industry experience required. So, large numbers of over-stretched people find themselves servicing many different accounts – without the specialist knowledge needed for today’s complex B2B tech landscape.
What’s more, teams are expected to churn out content as quickly as possible, without the luxuries of time or knowledge needed to produce quality work. This environment means clients are simply not receiving the value they deserve. So, what’s the solution?
The need for industry experts
With technology changing at such a rapid rate, it’s clear that clients are best served by expert teams that aren’t stretched across a multitude of industries. Employing a boutique model where sector-specialists only work with a handful of accounts, gives them more time to think, consult and be creative.
It enables PRs to gain a deep understanding of both clients and their particular industries – both of which are essential to delivering effective B2B campaigns. And, as experts in their field, good tech PRs are able to fully engage with clients and influencers, building strong relationships and delivering value to both.
Clients get the thought-led, insightful service they are paying for, while employees get to develop their knowledge in a particular sector and add real value to the accounts they are on.
The challenge is how to scale this approach so that agencies can be profitable and grow. This is where many agencies fall down. From our experience, the most effective way to ensure scalability is through a honeycomb structure where senior staff provide strategic consultancy, supported by small teams of more junior employees that are focussed on tactical delivery.
Through this model, the client gets what they have paid for, while juniors learn from the experience of senior team members and from early exposure to clients.
But just adopting this model isn’t enough. In-depth, long-term training that gives employees the skills to take on a range of responsibilities early on in their careers is also vital to the long-term success of any B2B tech PR firm.
Put training front and centre
With so much pressure on PR agencies, it’s easy to treat training as an afterthought – a tick box exercise with no structure or commitment. Too many agencies shepherd their people through low cost and often low value cookie-cutter courses that don’t add any real value.
Like many agencies we’ve got it wrong in the past, but we’ve learnt that the quality of the trainer and their knowledge of our work is vital. Often industry-renowned training organisations tend to be very B2C-oriented, where B2B tech requires a more bespoke approach.
When we take on less experienced people, they work closely with a senior member of the team – and get a lot of that person’s time. This focus on mentoring, aligned with bespoke external training, is an approach that fast-tracks the brightest people and, of course, helps the agency grow.
Investment in training leads to a higher retention of people, which is invaluable in an industry that is known for having a high staff turnover. As well as being a hindrance to agencies, it is also a major bugbear for clients – high staff turnover and high client turnover tend to go hand in hand.
So, employees have to be given the attention they deserve, which the factory approach to PR simply doesn’t achieve. We can teach people the tools of our trade, but only time can give them the experience to manage situations. It can be tough to retain people through this learning process, but if we choose the right people and are open with them, we’re usually rewarded with a stable team, a better company culture and lower recruitment costs.
The average graduate tenure here at the lorries is over four years. This is practically unheard of in our industry, to the benefit of our agency and our clients.
Boutique PR agencies gain ground
Fighting a factory approach makes sense commercially as well. Watch the PR industry news and you’ll notice that more independent agencies are winning business off the bigger tech PR groups. There are several reasons for this.
For example, independents can be more selective about the work they accept – only taking on a client if they’re certain they have the specific expertise and resources needed to deliver a successful campaign.
What’s more, boutique firms are set up to capitalise on opportunities to win a bigger portion of the marketing spend. Central to this is strategy, story and content. B2B tech PR is about crafting sophisticated arguments around complex subjects and delivering them to the right audiences. It’s not an easy job, which is why it’s hard to throw juniors at it and succeed. In this thought-based industry, teams have to be structured with the time and knowledge to think if they’re to deliver great work for clients.
Good B2B tech PR agencies with sector-specific expertise should then be in a position of strength. It should come as no surprise to see mid-sized tech agencies – who have led the charge to fight the factory approach – gaining ground on bigger rivals, with above average growth in the league tables thanks to their dedication to providing quality over quantity.
Ultimately, the sweat shop model where junior employees are put under pressure to work long hours and churn out content across many accounts isn’t good for clients, employees or the agency itself.
Having focused, expert teams working on carefully selected accounts is the only way to deliver the truly thoughtful, insight led work that clients need. At the end of the day, good tech PR comes down to content – and exceptional content doesn’t come from factories. It comes from quality of thought.
Guy Walsingham is the founder and CEO of technology PR agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Guy has over 20 years of in-house and agency marketing communications and branding experience. He held senior management and marketing roles at technology companies both in the UK and the USA before establishing the lorries.
Guy Walsingham is the founder and CEO of technology PR agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Guy has over 20 years of in-house and agency marketing communications and branding experience. He held senior management and marketing roles at technology companies both in the UK and the USA before establishing the lorries.mail the author
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