Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Community Relations during Natural Disasters: Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You

The recent natural disasters that have affected our globe cannot be ignored. Almost immediately after an earthquake near Japan triggered a Tsunami, a chain of new disasters followed, including an outbreak of deadly tornadoes across the South as well as the flooding of the Mississippi River.

As soon as these disasters occurred, companies and organizations who were equipped to do so, sprang to the aide of those in need. For instance, American Behavioral a Birmingham-based behavioral health care organization serving clients nationwide, began receiving calls from their client companies. They put a plan into action to deal with what they knew was going to be the beginning of a severe emotional reaction that would follow those who were affected by the storm devastation.

In the days after the storm, American Behavioral sent out fliers and resource materials to all of their Human Resource contacts with information about dealing with the emotional impact tornadoes may have on their employees and family members, how to recognize the signs and symptoms of those suffering with a severe reaction, and ways that supervisors can help their employees to cope.

They also began sending on-site counselors to conduct group critical incident group debriefings and individual sessions with employees to the affected work areas to client companies affected by the storm, which ranged from banks, retail stores, fire and police departments, manufacturing plants, nursing home facilities, to hospital and other healthcare facilities.

American Behavioral has offered to provide expert advice to local and national publications through media alerts and pitches, establishing the organization as a dependable and credible go-to source on this topic. By providing tips and guidance on the human resource and financial toll on companies, as well as the emotional and financial toll on employees, American Behavioral is able to help both citizen victims as well as corporate victims of these disasters. Through this, American Behavioral is also able to introduce those company owners and employees who do not have behavioral health benefits, to a service that can help them be more prepared in the future.

This is an example of community relations between client and provider at its finest.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tip Sheet: Apply the Golden Rule in Your Client Relationships

Originally posted at prnewsonline.com.

By Helene Solomon

Public relations pioneer Edward Bernays would have had a field day today. Long before integrated communications and social media, when business relationships were somehow more simple, clients hired Bernays to move public opinion; and he invented the press release to do just that. His brand of “propaganda” was considered revolutionary, and unquestionably gave birth to modern-day public relations.

But PR in the 21st century is much more than 20th century propaganda. To be successful, today’s PR requires a team effort between clients and PR agencies to understand the unique issues of the client’s space, prepare for the unexpected, stand out in increasingly crowded fields and keep up with the latest trends and technologies.

For any public relations agency/client partnership to be successful, it’s important to work in close collaboration with the in-house communications team and the rest of senior management.

According to a recent study conducted by Glasscubes, nearly 90% of PR pros said they would achieve better results if the agency/client relationship were more collaborative. Following are five tips on how best to build those agency/client relationships, and improve collaboration.

• Become your client’s biggest fan. Not just on Facebook. Understand their pressures and what keeps them up at night, anticipate their needs and challenges and be an advocate for their issues. If you want to build a thriving partnership, the agency team must learn to think like the client. Understand the corporate culture. Align your thinking with theirs—not so you would necessarily do what they would do, after all one of the advantages an agency has is a fresh perspective. Recognize their business goals and objectives and know what they are trying to accomplish long-term in their sales and marketing plan.

• Review and test the crisis plan. If recent events have proved anything, it’s that every organization needs to have a crisis plan. It needs to be tested, exercised and well communicated throughout the organization. No ifs, ands or buts. It is the best way for agencies and clients to get to know each other. It takes you from the first date to marriage faster than any other exercise.

• Be proactive, not reactive. Think one step ahead of them. Be the first to send over media coverage and relevant industry news. Suggest fresh, creative ideas that show you follow their space and competitors closely. Be accessible, and respond quickly and thoughtfully to client questions, comments and concerns. Add value by always being on the lookout for other ways to help. For example, if you know they have been bedeviled by lack of access to a key influencer, figure out how to get them to that person. It may not be directly billable by the hour, but will pay great dividends down the road.

• Make the in-house team look good. There’s a general understanding that if you help make your client contact look good in front of their manager, you will boost their ability to achieve their annual performance goals that may mean a raise or promotion. It’s the agency’s job to consistently produce results that prove the value and capabilities of the in-house team. This way, when it comes time for the decision-makers to update annual business plans and review budgets, the in-house team has the evidence to make a strong case to keep the agency, and possibly expand their role and budget.

• Excel in the vast world of social media. A recent study conducted by Yankee Group revealed that nearly 60% of customers feel company outreach via social media would improve their loyalty to that company, and 70% wanted access to company experts and support via social media channels. In-house marketing professionals may understand social media, but it’s up to the PR agency to excel as leaders of its spheres of influence, recognizing where it would benefit the client most.

Today’s PR agency is doing a lot more than writing press releases. We’re also selling relationship building, executive visibility, brand awareness, alignment with public policy, strategic counsel on partnerships, crisis planning, reputation protection as well as a true commitment to the client to support them in all facets of their business. And we’re not in it alone. At the end of the workday, we are one team, working side-by-side with our in-house partners to meet the same goals. We just have different e-mail addresses.

Helene Solomon is the cofounder and CEO of Solomon McCown & Co., a Boston-based strategic communications firm, and a member of the PR News Advisory Board. She can be reached at hsolomon@solomonmccown.com.