Are Clients Ready for PR 2.0?

Man Leading DiscussionI first wrote this post in August, just before we started PRBC, thinking it would be a nice way to give others a glimpse into my thoughts, particularly since I consider myself a pragmatic practitioner and evangelist for the benefits of social media PR. Enjoy!

A while back, my good friend Lauren Fernandez wrote a great post where she asked the proverbial question: “What does PR mean to you?” Lauren and BethHarte began discussing the true role of PR as we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, and where we all actually stand with clients, or if you’re on the corporate side, with your organization. But it was this question from Lauren that really grabbed my attention: “Do you think clients are ready for PR 2.0?”

While I would love to dive right in and say “YES! YES! YES!” unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s quite that simple. When we – PR/MarComm/social media professionals – ask that question of ourselves, I’m sure many of us say “Yes!” but are we even that confident in our answer? The fact is, there is no doubt many of us in PR are trying incredibly hard to get up to speed with PR 2.0, learn as much as we can about integrating social media with PR and how we can really powerfully reach a brand or organization’s target audience. But the reality is that we live in a business climate, where time still does equal money (and boy does it ever in this economy), and where the jury is still out regarding exactly how much ROI social media can produce.

I certainly think we are a lot closer now in late-2009 to many of our clients being ready for the future of PR than we were even a year ago. But in many cases, particularly with a client that has had bad experiences in the past with social media, or works in a corporate culture where experimentation, risk and change are slow to progress, a PR 2.0 strategy may not be the best strategy for that client, and in some cases, may actually harm the overall public outreach and trust-building efforts of a PR team.

Does that mean we shouldn’t try to help a client learn, understand and embrace social media? Hell no. Part of our job as PR practitioners (and one that I personally feel is underused) is to counsel clients or executives within our organization—our ability to teach, counsel and advise clients about new practices or strategies that they may not have thought about before, or may not have realized the positive impact of those efforts. So with that in mind, here is what I propose: While not all clients may be ready for PR 2.0, we still owe it to each and every client we represent to at least discuss the principles behind what makes social media and PR 2.0 ideas successful and potentially worth their time. We must then counsel them on a POTENTIAL social media PR strategy that could powerfully help them increase public awareness and brand loyalty.

After all, at the heart of our business, we are counselors. And a counselor doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear; he or she tells you (or a client) what you need to hear. So what are your thoughts? Are clients ready for PR 2.0?

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  • Keith, I agree with you 100%. I think that clients LOVE the idea of PR 2.0, but when it comes to execution, they are hesitatant because of what ROI it could/won't produce. Introducing it to a client in a slow, steady way could lessen those fears though. As will good research on the effectiveness of social media outlets on promotion/etc. I am pushing some PR 2.0 tactics are my current job and it's taking some time, but I think we're almost there 🙂 great insight!

  • keithtrivitt

    Christa – Thanks for chiming in. I really enjoyed your point about patience. I think that is far too often overlooked with almost every aspect of trying to implement social media and PR 2.0 practices into client work.

    I know myself, I have actually found some pushback from clients regarding PR 2.0 strategies and tactics to be a good thing. For one, it has forced me to go back and re-examine my ideas for a project, and try to develop ones that are far more specific and impactful for the client and their business. I think in the end, despite having to wait longer to jump into things, this will actually serve me well with the client's work.

  • heatherwhaling

    Keith, I don't think there's a simple yes or no answer to this question. Some clients are ready for it, but just need a little help figuring out how to get started. Other clients think they're ready for it, but really aren't (i.e., they're the ones who want to delete every comment that isn't a ringing endorsement). And, then there are those that have no interest, see no value and think Facebook and Twitter are where kids living in their parents' basements still live. 🙂 I totally agree with you: As PR people, it's our job to educate clients about the value, culture and strategy of social media. Thankfully, some clients absolutely are ready. Those are the ones willing to take some risk and think out of the box — really fun clients to work with. Good post!

  • keithtrivitt

    Thanks, Heather! I agree that there are no right or wrong, yes or no answers to this. And I really believe that unlike what some are preaching now, integrating PR 2.0 and many social media practices into client work isn't going to be a battle that we will win in 2010, or really, any time soon. This is going to be a long, hard fight, but a good fight, and in the end, I'm really confident that if we continue to work to show value and show the relevancy and importance to companies, their brands and their fans, that we will win over more than we lose.

    That's why I'm such a big believer in PR professionals being counselors to clients. That's such an important part of our jobs, in my opinion. Even if people do not like/appreciate or fully comprehend the impact of the messages/ideas/initiatives/strategies that we are discussing with them, we will owe it to clients to bring up these pertinent issues and ideas that we believe would add value and improve their company.

  • Great post, Keith! As a flack in the book biz, I can say that some of my clients are NOT ready for anything 2.0. And for the vast majority, that's actually okay. I would personally love to catapult us all into the future as fast as I can, but that's not always in the best interests of my clients. It would be a great disservice to counsel them to use social media when their hearts are not in it. That is, when the idea of using social media makes them want to kill themselves, there's no point in forcing it. I can teach, I can show, I can explain, I can list the pros and cons but in the end (and this is very difficult for me), their long-term success is dependent on whether or not they want to be on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or blogs or whatever.

    Little by little, though, I'm enabling the right people in the right ways.

  • keithtrivitt

    TJ – Really great comment. Thanks so much for this. You make a fantastic point with this: “I can teach, I can show, I can explain, I can list the pros and cons.”

    So true. Our jobs are to prepare our clients for business success in many different ways by connecting them with the key influencers and brand advocates who will spread the word for them. Or as Edward Boches so aptly puts it, “Creativity in the digital age is about getting others to tell our stories for us.”

    We can push and cajole and demonstrate the value of social media and PR 2.0 as much as we want, but if our clients are not ready for it, then we should take it upon ourselves to say “OK,” rethink some of our strategies to ensure they align with the agreed upon goals with the client, but also continue to discuss aspects of PR 2.0, over time, that we feel may be of value to the client and his/her business.

  • jeffespo

    Keith, this is an interesting post. I just read Putting the Public Back Into PR last week so the subject is still fresh in my mind.

    Granted clients or companies may not be ready for the new PR, but its our job to educate them and make it happen. As our industry keeps changing we need to be evangelists for SM. We also should subscribe to the whole notion that we should act first and ask for permission later.

    At the end of the day if a client or company isn't ready for PR 2.0 but the results are there, where is the foul?

  • keithtrivitt

    Man, you just opened up a whole slew of great questions and debates! Thanks for chiming in. Great point about those of us in PR being evangelists for social media, and frankly, whatever better form of connecting brands with their influencers and advocates that may come along in the future.

    Not sure if I completely agree with you about acting first and ask permission later. Certainly, there are times (say, when a reporter/blogger is on a very hard deadline) that we need to do this, but this can also get you in a whole world of problems if you do something without thinking about the consequences first, particularly with client work, since you don't technically work for your client, so you could get your firm/your business in a lot of hot water if something backfires or doesn't work out quite right.

    Though I do believe – like you – that we should do as much as we can to discuss the overall benefits of PR 2.0, while also discussing any downfalls from it (if there really are any of making better and deeper connections between brands and their advocates. Like I said, it's all about the counsel you offer.

  • jeffespo

    Agreed Keith, I wasn't thinking in the client way since I work for a brand directly. I think with the whole SM/PR issue its one of those things to push the need for overall 2.0 embrace.

    Too many companies in general seem too scared to open themselves up with SM. One of the things that they miss is that the conversation is going on with or without them, so why not get involved?

    I'm a firm believer in engaging not only with Hacks, but also with the general customer. From experience, I have seen the value in building up relationships on Twitter with bloggers, for example, growing my company's blog network from a 10 good bloggers to now having 30 mom bloggers alone.

    On the flip side, I could see the backfiring of any SM stunt (I use that lightly). My recommendation would be to pitch and solicit stories via SM as well as the 2.0 release format or SM release from a wire service. Its also a case where we can advise SM to a client, but they need to execute the communications on it because there is not an intimate knowledge if you aren't employed by said brand.

  • keithtrivitt

    I love that you say this: “One of the things that they (companies) miss is that the conversation is going on with or without them, so why not get involved?”

    EXACTLY! That's the No. 1 thing I tell every single client when I get pushback from them regarding social media and PR 2.0. We have to help companies and clients realize that people are going to have these conversations about your brand either with or without you online, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop that.

    So like you say, why not get involved with that conversation? Or better yet, why not provide some key influencers and brand advocates (ideally, ones that you have worked to cultivate and respect) with the core messages and brand concepts that you are trying to get across the public? Arm them with this information in a very informed and transparent manner, and help them to build and enhance your brand's value for you.

    Thanks for clarifying your points on this. I certainly agree that there are some subtle differences when you work directly for a brand vs. working at an agency with clients.

  • Keith, I agree with you 100%. I think that clients LOVE the idea of PR 2.0, but when it comes to execution, they are hesitatant because of what ROI it could/won't produce. Introducing it to a client in a slow, steady way could lessen those fears though. As will good research on the effectiveness of social media outlets on promotion/etc. I am pushing some PR 2.0 tactics are my current job and it's taking some time, but I think we're almost there 🙂 great insight!

  • keithtrivitt

    Christa – Thanks for chiming in. I really enjoyed your point about patience. I think that is far too often overlooked with almost every aspect of trying to implement social media and PR 2.0 practices into client work.

    I know myself, I have actually found some pushback from clients regarding PR 2.0 strategies and tactics to be a good thing. For one, it has forced me to go back and re-examine my ideas for a project, and try to develop ones that are far more specific and impactful for the client and their business. I think in the end, despite having to wait longer to jump into things, this will actually serve me well with the client's work.

  • heatherwhaling

    Keith, I don't think there's a simple yes or no answer to this question. Some clients are ready for it, but just need a little help figuring out how to get started. Other clients think they're ready for it, but really aren't (i.e., they're the ones who want to delete every comment that isn't a ringing endorsement). And, then there are those that have no interest, see no value and think Facebook and Twitter are where kids living in their parents' basements still live. 🙂 I totally agree with you: As PR people, it's our job to educate clients about the value, culture and strategy of social media. Thankfully, some clients absolutely are ready. Those are the ones willing to take some risk and think out of the box — really fun clients to work with. Good post!

  • keithtrivitt

    Thanks, Heather! I agree that there are no right or wrong, yes or no answers to this. And I really believe that unlike what some are preaching now, integrating PR 2.0 and many social media practices into client work isn't going to be a battle that we will win in 2010, or really, any time soon. This is going to be a long, hard fight, but a good fight, and in the end, I'm really confident that if we continue to work to show value and show the relevancy and importance to companies, their brands and their fans, that we will win over more than we lose.

    That's why I'm such a big believer in PR professionals being counselors to clients. That's such an important part of our jobs, in my opinion. Even if people do not like/appreciate or fully comprehend the impact of the messages/ideas/initiatives/strategies that we are discussing with them, we will owe it to clients to bring up these pertinent issues and ideas that we believe would add value and improve their company.

  • Great post, Keith! As a flack in the book biz, I can say that some of my clients are NOT ready for anything 2.0. And for the vast majority, that's actually okay. I would personally love to catapult us all into the future as fast as I can, but that's not always in the best interests of my clients. It would be a great disservice to counsel them to use social media when their hearts are not in it. That is, when the idea of using social media makes them want to kill themselves, there's no point in forcing it. I can teach, I can show, I can explain, I can list the pros and cons but in the end (and this is very difficult for me), their long-term success is dependent on whether or not they want to be on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or blogs or whatever.

    Little by little, though, I'm enabling the right people in the right ways.

  • keithtrivitt

    TJ – Really great comment. Thanks so much for this. You make a fantastic point with this: “I can teach, I can show, I can explain, I can list the pros and cons.”

    So true. Our jobs are to prepare our clients for business success in many different ways by connecting them with the key influencers and brand advocates who will spread the word for them. Or as Edward Boches so aptly puts it, “Creativity in the digital age is about getting others to tell our stories for us.”

    We can push and cajole and demonstrate the value of social media and PR 2.0 as much as we want, but if our clients are not ready for it, then we should take it upon ourselves to say “OK,” rethink some of our strategies to ensure they align with the agreed upon goals with the client, but also continue to discuss aspects of PR 2.0, over time, that we feel may be of value to the client and his/her business.

  • jeffespo

    Keith, this is an interesting post. I just read Putting the Public Back Into PR last week so the subject is still fresh in my mind.

    Granted clients or companies may not be ready for the new PR, but its our job to educate them and make it happen. As our industry keeps changing we need to be evangelists for SM. We also should subscribe to the whole notion that we should act first and ask for permission later.

    At the end of the day if a client or company isn't ready for PR 2.0 but the results are there, where is the foul?

  • keithtrivitt

    Man, you just opened up a whole slew of great questions and debates! Thanks for chiming in. Great point about those of us in PR being evangelists for social media, and frankly, whatever better form of connecting brands with their influencers and advocates that may come along in the future.

    Not sure if I completely agree with you about acting first and ask permission later. Certainly, there are times (say, when a reporter/blogger is on a very hard deadline) that we need to do this, but this can also get you in a whole world of problems if you do something without thinking about the consequences first, particularly with client work, since you don't technically work for your client, so you could get your firm/your business in a lot of hot water if something backfires or doesn't work out quite right.

    Though I do believe – like you – that we should do as much as we can to discuss the overall benefits of PR 2.0, while also discussing any downfalls from it (if there really are any of making better and deeper connections between brands and their advocates. Like I said, it's all about the counsel you offer.

  • jeffespo

    Agreed Keith, I wasn't thinking in the client way since I work for a brand directly. I think with the whole SM/PR issue its one of those things to push the need for overall 2.0 embrace.

    Too many companies in general seem too scared to open themselves up with SM. One of the things that they miss is that the conversation is going on with or without them, so why not get involved?

    I'm a firm believer in engaging not only with Hacks, but also with the general customer. From experience, I have seen the value in building up relationships on Twitter with bloggers, for example, growing my company's blog network from a 10 good bloggers to now having 30 mom bloggers alone.

    On the flip side, I could see the backfiring of any SM stunt (I use that lightly). My recommendation would be to pitch and solicit stories via SM as well as the 2.0 release format or SM release from a wire service. Its also a case where we can advise SM to a client, but they need to execute the communications on it because there is not an intimate knowledge if you aren't employed by said brand.

  • keithtrivitt

    I love that you say this: “One of the things that they (companies) miss is that the conversation is going on with or without them, so why not get involved?”

    EXACTLY! That's the No. 1 thing I tell every single client when I get pushback from them regarding social media and PR 2.0. We have to help companies and clients realize that people are going to have these conversations about your brand either with or without you online, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop that.

    So like you say, why not get involved with that conversation? Or better yet, why not provide some key influencers and brand advocates (ideally, ones that you have worked to cultivate and respect) with the core messages and brand concepts that you are trying to get across the public? Arm them with this information in a very informed and transparent manner, and help them to build and enhance your brand's value for you.

    Thanks for clarifying your points on this. I certainly agree that there are some subtle differences when you work directly for a brand vs. working at an agency with clients.

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