Firm Leaders Advise, ‘Be Bold’

For its final act, the PRWeek NEXT conference gathered three firm heads — Edelman’s Richard Edelman, Ketchum’s Rob Flaherty, and Fred Cook of GolinHarris — to talk about what it means to not just have the “seat at the table,”* but to maximize it.

The consensus among the three can be summed up simply: “Be bold.” In fact, Cook used those words specifically. Flaherty used a quote, that we’ll quote in part here: “Try not to be the understudy in your own life… We have all the permission we need to step to center stage.”

For all three, the key to this boldness is the ability to go beyond the traditional bounds of a PR firm. Whether that means “having a seat at many tables” by being relevant to different areas of the client’s business (Flaherty), or working with the “new influencers” who are not just the professors and business heads but also that person who just happens to be an enthusiast (Edelman), the point was firms can’t approach clients or their work in the same way.

Separately and kind of hysterical, Edelman does not like the chief legal officer at companies. “We need to go for that guy’s jugular,” he said, adding that “they’re thinking in the 1980s” while PR is in the here and now. The chief comms officer, on the other hand, is your friend.

But getting back, all three men talked about the competition with the advertising industry — for business, for Cannes awards, and for budget once the business is won. According to Cook, half of the social media work that GolinHarris is getting is coming from clients who first started their digital programs with ad agencies. And all three emphasized that the “big idea” for a campaign can now come from the PR agency, so there’s no need to be old-school about it, waiting for the decisions to be made with the PR side acting on a pre-determined strategy. Feel free to toss out your creative plans and see what happens.

Very important according to Flaherty is measurement, particularly in the social media space. Ketchum’s system was summed up as a “height, width, and depth,” which doesn’t just count clicks, for instance, but analyzes all of the activity.

Finally, don’t sell your services at a discount. “You need to be bold enough to say, ‘This is the price to deliver quality,'” Edelman said.

*PR industry, can we please stop using the term “seat at the table?” It’s old and tired and I’m sick of typing it.