Monday, September 25, 2006

Are You Succeeding? Ask the Client!

"How am I doing?" It's a question the former New York City Mayor Ed Koch asked his constituents constantly. He really cared about meeting their needs.

But according to three leading public relations professionals in top positions at Mastercard International, Pfizer and Booz Allen Hamilton who were part of a panel on client satisfaction I moderated the other night for the New York Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, too few public relations agencies are asking their clients that all-important question.

That we want happy clients is a given. Happy clients deepen their relationships with us and stay longer. They are less price-sensitive and more likely to recommend our firm to others. Research shows that happy clients tell four to five others about their positive experience. Unhappy clients, on the other hand, tell nine to twelve of their friends and colleagues how bad it was!

In the next couple of weeks, I hope to discuss some of the drivers of a happy client-agency relationship, as discussed by our corporate-side experts. Today, I want to talk about how an agency asks that all-important question: "How are we doing?" In my opinion, there's a distinct process that can help ensure that the question is asked in the right way and with the right frequency.

To drive clients from merely satisfied to "totally satisfied," we introduced in 1988 our Quality Commitment Program (QCP), an important part of our continuous quest to find better ways to do what we do ... from the client's perspective. Free of cost to the client, QCP represents the agency's investment in the relationship and a tangible demonstration of our client-centric culture.

Our quality initiative encompasses "report cards," a gap analysis and a creative strategy session. Once or twice annually we solicit written client evaluations of our performance and -- in a monthly meeting moderated by the firm's senior management, along with the relevant account team -- we compare the client report card to written account team evaluations and perform a gap analysis. We find out answers to such questions as: Are we achieving agreed-upon goals? How does the client rate our work? Is the client getting value for the money?

The program is managed by an independent auditor, a veteran in our industry and an expert in the field. He also calls our clients periodically (even in happy situations, sometimes you have to solicit complaints to move the needle from client satisfaction to client delight).

Does it work? Our clients say, "Yes."

Larry Hyatt, CFO of O'Charley's, a near $1-billion chain of 352 casual-dining restaurants in 17 states, fields guest satisfaction surveys to his company's 10 billion guests a year. He says he also appreciates it when his agency, Makovsky + Company, asks for feedback. He calls it "time well spent."

Last year's Managing Customers as Investments -- a book by Sunil Gupta and Donald R Lehmann, both professors at Columbia Business School -- contends that the value of its current and future customers is a proxy for a large part of the value of the firm. If you believe that, you've got to do everything it your power to keep those assets happy!

What are you doing to keep your clients happy?

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Mainstream Media Pushes the Boundaries for Big Payoff

"Build a better mousetrap," said Emerson, "and the world will beat a path to your door." Apparently that adage applies to newspapers, too!
According to a recent article in AdAge, appropriating the techniques of consumer-generated media -- such as tagging and reader commentary -- has helped The Washington Post grow its revenues an astonishing 36%.

Author Gavin O'Malley says that while The Washington Post was clearly not the only news organization embracing social media, it was an early leader in the field and it continues to test the boundaries of the burgeoning medium.

Overall, the Post may be setting a standard in reader engagement. Instead of just slapping on a section for reader comments, the editors are asking themselves how they can invite a dialogue EVERYWHERE in the users' experience of the website. For example, features a news search engine that directs its readers to other news sites. The idea is that readers will use as their default news home page, rather than just one stop in their news-gathering routine. Further, in addition to comments, readers are invited to submit questions to be asked of the people interviewed in the Discussions section. And the mission of the CameraWorks (i.e., photojournalism) section is "to build a site where professional photographers, amateurs and students as well as people who simply enjoy compelling stories can come together to share ideas."

Online revenue at the Washington Post Co.'s newspaper division totaled $25.3 million in the second quarter ... up 36 percent over last year, with most of the gains coming from That's more than the online revenue generated by its chief rival, The New York Times Co., which grew 25% in the second quarter compared to last year.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Jag är en Amerikansk och “en Svensk!”

(Translation: I am an American and "a Swede!")

Sometimes, when you meet certain people, you feel an instant connection. You might be drawn to them because of their interests, their appearance, their warmth, their personality or just because they have an inviting manner. But is it possible to feel that comfortable, not only with another person or group, but with the people of an entire country?

For me, it is ... with the people of Sweden.

I've felt a sense of connectedness with Swedes from the time I first visited the country many years ago under the auspices of AIESEC (pronounced "eye-sek"), the Association for International Exchange of Students in Economics and Commerce. AIESEC enabled me, while I was still in university, to work as an economics intern for a large shipbuilding company in Gothenburg.

I will never forget the fantastic international business experience I got as well as the hospitality and generosity of my colleagues. It led to the development of many friendships and, in later years, key corporate clients. It motivated me to want to return to Sweden, and I look forward to every trip. Further, my love for the country led me to study the language to honor the Swedish culture and sensibility.

What are the traits that I admire in Swedes? They are reserved, honest, understated, direct and generally trustworthy. Sweden is known for its beautiful women, but I would say that they are a beautiful people. They are health conscious -- their cuisine is healthy and exercise is part of the regimen. Swedes get things done without making a lot of noise.

While it takes a while for them to become your good friends, friendships once formed are long-lasting. One Swede once said to me: "Swedes are like a bottle of ketchup. You shake them and shake them, and nothing comes, and then all of a sudden everything comes."

Despite all these wonderful qualities, the Swedish psyche also confronts challenges. For example, at a very young age, Swedes learn about the "Jante law," a kind of universal cultural code that says that no Swede is better than any other Swede. Some Swedes believe this value system stifles success and limits development of the self-esteem needed for success. One of my Swedish friends said to me: "Swedes understand how to experience the good life, but they are too risk-averse to ever experience the great life, as many Americans do." Taxes are hefty, and it is hard to become rich. Nevertheless, Sweden continues to produce leaders in business and creativity and remains a commercial focal point in Scandinavia.

Several years ago, I became a member of the board of the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce, which is dedicated to boosting trade between the two countries. A few weeks ago, I was in Lidköping, Sweden's fifth largest city, for a board meeting and then went on to Stockholm where I met with various major companies potentially in need of public relations services. I enjoy working hard to promote commerce and goodwill between the United States and Sweden, and continue to seek ways to build bridges.

Student experiences, such as the AIESEC summer program, can have a lifelong impact -- which is why I believe international exchange is so important. As our world shrinks, these kinds of opportunities need to grow.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

“Get Things Done” People

"When you want to get something done, give it to a busy person," someone once said to me. I have found it to be true, and over the years it has become one of the rules I live by.

The question is: Why is something so counter-intuitive so true? Why would a busy person have more time to get things done than colleagues who aren't as busy? Are "get things done" people more disciplined? Do they budget their time better? Are they more motivated? More concerned about the team, and thereby the impact of the project on others?

What's the difference between people who get things done and those who just "try" to get things done? Is it a matter of personal pride?

I don't have the answers. All I know is that these "get things done" folks invariably meet their goals and achieve great results. Moreover, in an era when speed is a competitive edge, they usually turn things around fast. They never sit on them. You never have to check up on them or solicit progress reports. They take the initiative and they deliver.

They're always busy, and yet they always seem to have time for everything. You may call them "anal." You may poke fun at their "workaholic" tendencies. I call them "leaders." And I come by them all too rarely in the business world. We hold them in high esteem at Makovsky.

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