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By Kathy Cripps

We introduce our next guest blogger of our monthly series on the 25th of every month, in celebration of our 25th anniversary this year, Kathy Cripps, President, Council of Public Relations Firms.

Kathy Cripps is president of the Council of Public Relations Firms, the U. S. employer-based trade association. Kathy worked with multinational public relations firms and had her own firm for many years; she and the Council are strong advocates for PR firms and the value they bring to clients around the globe.

In two days (October 27) Marc Pritchard, Global Marketing & Brand Building Officer for Procter & Gamble, will speak at the Council’s Critical Issues Forum. The room will be filled with PR agency executives, their staffs and their clients from many different industries. We are thrilled Marc will address the group because when P&G speaks, people listen. Marketers and their public relations firms care what P&G has to say.

There’s a larger significance here as well. Public Relations is important to organizations like P&G.  I’m referring to the strategic relevance of our industry to organizations, whether in relation to reputation management, employee communications, crisis mitigation, marketing or public affairs. While the continued economic uncertainty has led to slower-than-hoped-for industry growth, public relations is more relevant and integrated than ever.

As the president of the Council of Public Relations Firms, the U.S. trade association for PR agencies, I have the opportunity to speak with firms around the country about what keeps them up at night, and what excites them about the future.  I know public relations is a hard business;  running a firm provides its own set of unique challenges, from servicing clients to managing and motivating talent.  It’s great to see firms like Pollack and others celebrate significant milestones.

The Council of PR Firms’ Q3 Quick Survey (of member firms) revealed some interesting statistics as firms and clients move into 2011 planning mode.  When asked what new business trends firms believe will be most important in 2011,  our members cited “more requests for digital and social media expertise” most often (80%), followed by “more competitive pitches” (57%) “a shift away from traditional media relations toward online influencers”  (56%) and “integrated campaign development “( 54%).  These responses are primarily good news as they represent not only a robust business environment but the expansive platform from which PR now operates.

Twenty five years in business, represents a time to reflect on growth, change and what’s ahead.  I don’t think I need to list the many ways the public relations business has changed since 1985. Suffice to say, staying competitive is one of the biggest challenges a PR firm faces today.

Here’s what I suggest to keep a firm healthy — and moving toward the next significant milestone:

  • Don’t give away your thinking. I know, I know, competitive pitches require that you come to the table with creative ideas. Before you get into the trap, encourage the client to select a firm, or narrow the list, using the firms’ capabilities. Clients who challenge the finalist(s) to answer 2-3 strategic questions learn enough about the firm to select a partner.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for fair compensation. This applies not only to new business, but ongoing client work. Help your staff understand why it’s more than OK to be paid for work outside the agreed upon scope, and equally important to be paid in a timely manner (you are not a bank, right?)
  • Help your staff get excited about public relations, especially working at a firm and making it a long-term career.  There are so many opportunities with the right public relations firm. With proper training and career guidance, today’s account executives can be tomorrow’s CEOs.
  • Diversify your firm. Staff differences in experience, ethnic background, gender and skills will make your firm a richer source of ideas.
  • Really listen to clients (and their competitors). Knowing your clients’ business will help you get new assignments because you will be an invaluable resource.
  • Learn to say no. If your firm doesn’t have the required expertise, invest in it, partner with a firm that does or don’t accept the work.
  • Be ethical. Following a moral compass is good business; it’s important to your clients and your employees.

As an industry we’re poised for growth – in size and responsibility.  Let’s go for it.