Flogs and Slogs

This week we introduced the first annual report that is also a blog. I’ll be honest when we had the idea a few months ago I was rather surprised nobody had done it before and felt sure that by the time we launched someone would have done it. Well, unless our Google searches are wrong, they didn’t and we were the first. I don’t think our blog is the greatest blog on the planet but I do think it will be the start of something. I’m pretty sure that in a year or so thousands of companies will be opening up their annual reports in this way. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Today lots of investors go to chat rooms and so on to get their insight. This approach allows them to have a direct access and it allows the company to take part in the debate. Now of course in many parts of the world there are still limits on what a CEO or CFO that is blogging can say but the success of may executive blogs such the one by Sun CEO, Jonathan Schwartz make it clear that people like the idea of an open door policy to communication.

As for my headline to this piece the question is what you call an annual report that is also a blog. The two listed, flog (financial blog) and slog (shareholder blog) are the most common suggestions to date.

Outsourced Agencies – Good or Bad?

One of the major tech companies is currently looking to put all of its marketing with one agency. It has currently asked two of the large agency groups to create an agency that will be dedicated to its business and handle all aspects of marketing from online advertising to research to PR. On paper the tech firm stands to do well out of this as the two agency giants tussle to offer the best value and brains. But to my way of thinking there are several issues that should concern a firm when they go down this path:

1. When you outsource all your marketing to one firm you are effectively signing them up for a VERY long time as switching is going to be even harder. So you had better be really sure you like the key people involved AND that that they will stay around.
2. The savings on the bigger pieces of the pie like advertising will likely be substantial but for the smaller pieces of the puzzle, lower cost will only mean lesser talent.
3. It will be tough to get people to work at this dedicated firm without throwing a lot of money at them (which seems to defeat the aim of the exercise). People who want to work at agencies typically do so because they want broad experience not to effectively work in house by having only one client.
4. One of the advantages of having an agency is that they work on other clients and are continually coming up with new thinking and new opportunities. These would likely dry up in a one agency scenario.
5. Integrated marketing has been around for ages and yet hardly anyone does it. Even those that do tend to have big areas where they make exceptions on the agency front. There has to be a reason why this approach hasn’t been adopted by all the major corporations around the world…

Now I know there are some who will say that I’m in no position to talk given we have a business that offer a global solution for clients. I’d argue that we only offer them PR and relevant research. We don’t try and offer them the entire solution.

When this tech firm makes its decision there will likely be a lot of speculation that others will follow. My suspicion is that some will watch to see how it works but I doubt many will immediately copy it.

What to do if a recession hits

Listening to the investment community either directly or through organs such as the WSJ it is clear that they believe we could be heading for a recession in the next year. Indeed, I gather the probability of a recession is now at exactly 50%. Having gone through a recession that had no impact on tech PR and one that had a profound effect (the dot com crash), it isn’t easy to see how a recession may affect the industry, especially since the roots of this one would seem to lie in a mix of high oil prices and the credit debacle. What is clear to me, however, is that PR needs to get ready for the possibility of a recession. What does this mean:

1. We need to help our clients understand the value of PR versus other disciplines. This means we have to jump on measurement in a big way if it hasn’t already happened. The facts on the effectiveness of PR are very persuasive but without them…

2. Anticipate your clients demands – what do you think your client would want to do if sales slowed? who are their biggest customers and how can you help them protect the customer base? What kinds of bad news may they have to deal with and how can you help them through that?

3. Avoid taking on clients that are likely to be hit hard in a recession. I noticed an advert for Net Jets in the WSJ today and my first thought was: “well there’s a market that will get awfully hard if there’s a recession.”

4. Expect clients to consolidate their spend. Right now larger companies tend to spread their PR across firms to access the best skills for the job. If there’s a recession they may well look to streamline the number of agencies in a bid to save money. Asking yourself if your firm would likely win or lose from such a change is probably a good thing to do now.

5. Don’t take on new office space you won’t need. During the last recession a lot of PR firms got into trouble because they had expensive offices they had hoped to grow into. Indeed I know of two fifty person PR businesses that effectively went bust because their leases ran to over $1m. Of course taking expensive office space is a silly move at the best of times but imagine having to lay people off because of a glamorous reception area and you will soon opt for the humbler option.

6. Conserve your cash. People based businesses, like most, are often run on overdrafts but when recessions do hit they can become cash strapped very quickly. Agencies need to make sure they have a good handle on how their cashflow could change if revenues were to fall back. A good CFO will be able to model this quite easily and should be able to guide agency heads.

7. Remember your people. When recessions hit agencies can often focus too much on the client and forget that without good people clients will walk. This doesn’t mean that agencies should lavish money on their people that they don’t have. What it does mean is that they should think about what makes people stay at a firm apart from money. Career develoment, skills, the working environment, their colleagues – these are things that matter to people in any economic climate so don’t lose sight of them when an economy changes.

OK – off the top of my head this is my list. Hopefully it is a list we don’t need but in truth some of it is just common sense and should be how we run agencies anyway. Right?