"I'm sorry but we cannot help you," I reluctantly said to the MD of a medium-sized ($50-55 million turnover) Australian organisation. Naturally, I wanted the business and, after some discussions and a bit of research on my part, had understood the various angles and areas of strength contained within this organisation to begin a meaningful communications and PR campaign - fondly known as a perception management program by many US companies.
The original budget had been somewhat reduced but not the outcomes sought by the MD. Don't get me wrong, what he was after was achievable and appropriate for a positioning exercise - all doable with genuine messages that should be getting out there. He had certainly embraced our proposed approach and series of activities but was now a little worried about the length of the time line and the dollars necessarily linked to it.
Basically, the 18-month program requiring a minimum of 30 hours per month was now three months with 20 hours of activity each month. My gut told me the MD did not "get it". This is not a replacement for direct marketing or advertising. This is a high-level strategic approach requiring serious input from all parties and a genuine commitment to a long-term process.
This is a serious relationship-building series of exercises, done by lobbying activity (moving beyond the media world) and the creation of an organisation which becomes media-savvy. Of course, we could have undertaken the job but I chose to walk away for both our sakes. Over the last six months I have increasingly chosen to turn my back on such requests.
(Let me quickly add here before you all jump on me that we incorporate three-month reviews with all our customers and are absolutely prepared to terminate an agreement in less than a month - two weeks is enough to sort it all out between two parties - if we can't reach an understanding or clarify areas of concern. It is simply ignorance to lock someone into a fruitless contract.)Experience supports my belief that the most successful communications campaigns are those that run for approximately 24 months. This is where real measurement can take place and results can be converted to the bottom line; that is, sales. Companies in the US appear to share this belief and are more willing to commit to a long-term marcom campaign than Australian organisations.
No one wins trying to deliver on a three-month campaign. Barely measurable, internally the comments would be, "Nothing's changed, what a waste of time." Senior executives would add, "We've only got two articles out of all this investment," (the classical PR measurement) and the media would soon discover that the organisation was not genuine in its efforts to communicate with them and develop a deeper relationship.
When I talk about an 18- to 24-month campaign, this includes the in-built "maintenance" PR where heavy introductory activity has paid off and our involvement is reduced due to the new relationship created and nurtured with the various stakeholders. What a great result.
We've done our job, the media and the organisation are comfortably speaking directly with each other, and the organisation can reduce its communications costs, confident in its adopted communications approach.
In the technical world in which I operate, decision-makers regularly pull the plug on the communications programs in hand before a 12-month period. This is the perfect recipe for wasted media dollars. I have come to the conclusion that the majority of these organisations, having had their origins in a sales-driven environment, have problems in comprehending what marketing communications is all about. Beyond verbalising that an organisation is market driven is the need to actually take responsibility to act like one; to commit to undertake marketing communications activity moving beyond advertising and exhibitions.
Communications/PR campaigns take time and money to get the job done. Senior executives need to muster at least some degree of patience. Then again, technical companies breed impatience - that's why I love what I do!
Dolores Diez is principal of IT marketing strategy and communications organisation Rivers of Communication. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org