The Balanced Scorecard: Guaranteed To Reduce PR Agency Client Attrition

4978686242_3213d97e16The balanced scorecard (BSC) measurement system, which measures a business and business relationships across four critical categories, will absolutely positively save — and even grow — accounts when appropriately tailored and implemented for your public relations agency and clients’ needs.

I got religious about the BSC scorecard during my tenure with global PR firm Porter Novelli.  Gary Stockman, an executive at Porter Novelli at the time, introduced the BSC to the firm in the late 90’s (if memory serves me).  We modified the traditional structure of the BSC to suit the requirements of a PR agency while fully guarding the traditional scorecard’s integrity and intent.

And when we used it properly, it not only saved a number of key, global accounts but uncovered numerous organic growth opportunities that may not never had been uncovered otherwise.

More recently, I was part of a BSC exercise with a firm’s very important (I know, they’re all important) client and the results were less than stellar.  Among the reasons for the surprising results was that the client was “too nice” to be honest about how they were feeling about the relationship and the agency — until the BSC was introduced — wasn’t asking the right questions.

On the surface, the relationship was motoring along nicely.  In reality, the relationship was skating on thin ice (you can read about the outcome in the P.S.).

If you’re not familiar with the BSC (some argue it’s really a management system that has measurement as a key component), it was created by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton of Harvard Business School and was introduced to the business world 21 years ago.

Since then, it has been implemented by scores of organizations around the world as a way to measure the strength of a business and a business relationship beyond financial parameters. Of course, there’s a Balanced Scorecard for Dummies if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive on your own; and related works that could fill a BSC library. There’s also the Balanced Scorecard Institute which apparently has trained more than 5,000 people on BSC practices.

A traditional balanced scorecard has four legs: a measure of a client’s level of satisfaction with a company’s products and/or services; a financial track; the internal business process leg (IE, what are we better at than anyone else?), and finally, the knowledge, education and growth leg (in simplistic terms, how do we improve upon our core competencies?).

For PR agencies, a BSC can be structured similarly with only a few modifications.  It could go something like this: Top-4-Online-Invoicing-Tools-Make-2010-Relaxed-For-Your-Customers

  • 1, Strategy — these are questions that help an agency understand the client’s world. Questions like, “Does the agency understand my business?” and “Does the agency understand my internal challenges?”
  • 2, Execution & Tactics — the goal of this leg is to understand from the client if the agency is acting strategically.  Questions like, “Does the agency come up with program recommendations I would not have come up with on my own”? and “Do the agency’s program ideas reflect bigger picture thinking?”
  • 3, Results/Impact — questions that get at issues around desired value and showcase the agency’s impact among client senior management.  Questions like: “Are the agency’s results viewed by my management as having an impact?”
  • 4, Income & Investment — is the client seeing a return on its investment.  Questions like, “Does the agency do a good job of managing my budget”? and “Has the agency had a positive, measurable impact on my business.”

Any thoughts on using the BSC in your agency or if you’re a client, asking your agency about developing one?  Are the categories reflective of a holistic approach to measuring and managing agency-client relationships?

P.S.  The agency-client relationship that was skating on thin ice just prior to the BSC ultimately survived thanks to the quick action both sides took on the heels of the BSC.

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Things a New A.E. Should Not Assume About Client Relationship

Original post appeared August 20, 2013 by Arthur Solomon in PR News.

Arthur Soloman

By Arthur Solomon

So you’ve been promoted to a level where you will have your first substantive client contact. Congratulations. This is the opportunity that you’ve been seeking. You now have a chance to show your stuff. But good work is not enough. Good client relations are just as important as good results (often more so) in your quest to climb the agency ladder. Conversely, good results will not necessarily advance your career if you can’t hit it off with clients. Just as in your personal life, relationships are important in the business world. Never forget that. I say this from experience.

During my 30 years in public relations, before, during and after my nearly 25 years at Burson-Marsteller (where I played key roles and managed national and international sports and non-sports accounts and traveled as a media advisor with high-ranking foreign government officials), I have seen account people whose work I thought was below par advance on accounts because, as a client told me about one person, “If I told him to jump out of a 35th-floor window for me he would.”

Below are some lessons about client relations that in all probability were not covered in communications schools but that might help you survive the client-agency dance.

> Don’t assume that the gorgeous young woman who accompanies your client is his daughter.

> Don’t assume that your client isn’t miffed when you always win at tennis or golf. (Lose occasionally.)

> Don’t assume that if you ask if your work is satisfactory, you’ll get a positive answer.

> Don’t assume that if you go drinking with a client, it’s okay to say, “You look terrible” when you meet the next morning.

> Don’t assume that, just because you have a good social relationship with your client, it will assure you of a good year-end account team review.

> Don’t assume that when a client complains about being passed over for promotions that you can vent about your situation.

> Don’t assume that what a client tells you about your work is necessarily what will be told to your superiors.

> Don’t assume that when a client says, “As long as I run this account, you’ll be on my team” that it is written in stone.

> Don’t assume that when you’re about to leave on vacation and a client says, “It’s really not necessary to tell me how to contact you if an emergency occurs,” it means you don’t have to leave contact information.

> Don’t assume that when a client says “no rush” regarding a request, that there isn’t a “rush.”

> Don’t assume that when a client, (or your agency superior), says, “I’m going up the corporate ladder and I’m taking you with me,” that they mean it.

> And finally, don’t assume that all the praise the client showers on you will change what your agency superiors think of you.

Do your best to stay on the good side of a client by doing high-quality work that will make your client contact look good to his or her manager, but always remember your fate is in the hands of your agency supervisors. They sign your paycheck.

Arthur Solomon was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller. He can be reached atarthursolomon4pr@juno.com

 

Client Warning Signs – Part II

Warning-400x230Turns out I was wrong…again.

I’ve been informed by a number of public relations professionals that last week’s post, “9 Telltale Signs An Agency-Client Relationship Is On The Rocks” was way off base (grin).

Apparently, there are well over nine telltale signs.  I left out a few very obvious ones, like this one from Seattle-based PR pro Steven Spenser: “the client stops returning your phone calls, and getting her on the fone (sic) … becomes difficult.”

Or these gems from Gillian Findlay of Cambial Communications, greater Johannesburg, South Africa: “When the client asks to see the agency contract, the writing is on the wall. Another sign is when the agency is moved from a retainer to project basis.”

In England, where “manners rule,” Nigel Massey, chairman of The Massey Partnership in London, says that when a client is “terse in tone” then it’s “patently clear that the wheels have come off.”

Robert Sanders of Pittsburgh, Penn.-based Sanders Consulting, which consults with firms on new business strategies, tells his clients facing retention challenges to focus their attention on “controlling the relationship rather than attempting to control the client.”

Sanders said, “Agencies that modify behavior to make clients more comfortable improve cohesion and enhance their chances of retaining clients.”

He also believes that “chemistry” is the most important part of winning new business. I think many of us would agree that chemistry is also an important component of client retention.

Peter Smith, a U.K.-based veteran marketing, advertising and PR professional and today a managing director at The Marketing Doctors — a customer engagement firm — generated the most creative response to “telltale signs.”  While Smith cited the client’s call for a “review meeting” as a telltale sign (and he’s spot on with that one!), he followed with this creative, albeit somewhat cynical progression of all too many agency-client relationships (passed on to him by a former client):

Month -3 to 0 Flirting hourglass
Month 0-3 Passionate, creative, invigorating 
Month 4-6 Steady, reassuring 
Month 7-9 Annoying habits start to emerge 
Month 10-12 Predictable 
Month 13-15 Little dissatisfactions chip away 
Month 16-18 “I met this really interesting person at an industry dinner….” 
Month 19-21 Illicit meetings with new person leading to….. 

Flirting. 

Cynical? Moi? No – just seen it all happen too many times!

9 Telltale Signs An Agency-Client Relationship Is On The Rocks

2008_09_24-nordicrocksWhen the relationship between a public relations agency and a client is on the rocks, the agency is all-to-often the last to know.

And in many cases, the agency has no one to blame but themselves for either not proactively managing the client relationship, for not really listening to the client or for missing client clues that all is not well — or for all of the above.  When you add it all up, it boils down to neglect – taking clients for granted and then acting surprised when a client takes the business elsewhere.

Sound a little familiar?  If you’re an agency veteran, it should.

Nothing stings more than losing a client for reasons of poor agency performance, and the realization — once the dust has settled and your firm or account team has gone through the five stages of grief — that the the client is right.  As mentioned in a previous post on client retention, proactively managing and measuring the expectations and value of the agency-client relationship begins on the first day of the relationship and only ends when the relationship does.

Once the telltale signs of a dissolving agency-client relationship have surfaced, it’s often very difficult to repair and rebuild the relationship — though not impossible.  Having been on the client side, I know from first-hand experience that once a client believes his or her business has been taken for granted, recovery is a long shot.

The good news is that many clients will fire a number of warning shots before shopping their business to competing agencies.  The bad news is that not every account team recognizes them and thus go about their business like nothing is wrong .  The hole gets deeper, and deeper…and deeper.

So what are a few of the warning signs that all is not well between client and agency?  While some are quite obvious, others are very subtle and can be missed by all but the sharpest of account team members.

Here are nine signals: 

Rocks-Whiskey-Stone-set-of-9

  • The client cancels consecutive weekly team calls, or doesn’t cancel but just doesn’t dial in only to apologize later “because something came up.”
  • The client emails you a creative program idea sent to them by another agency and asks you for your thoughts on it.
  • The client sends you a news article favorably positioning a competitor and asks, “When are we going to start seeing coverage like this?”
  • Competing agencies start following your client on Twitter, and are followed back.
  • Your client asks to see your media pitches before you send them out.
  • The interactions you are having with your client are all business and devoid of any small talk (the client can’t wait to get off the phone).
  • The client asks if you’ll consider reducing the monthly retainer by 10-15 percent while keeping the team in tact and not reducing the number of program hours.
  • The client starts expressing frustration with certain account team members and ask you to make some changes.
  • The client asks you to send over your list of tier one and tier two influencer contacts, complete with phone numbers, emails address and twitter feed info.

Am I missing any tell tale signs that a client-agency relationship is on the wane?