Four Questions NOT to Ask a PR Agency

New business opportunities can come out of the blue.  Like any agency owner, I welcome them with open arms.  Usually, the initial call helps both agency and prospect tee up a meeting to learn more about the prospect’s company and what it’s looking to accomplish.  The written ones give you time to conduct due diligence before the next step.

However, some questions prospects ask on quickie phone intros send up immediate yellow flags.  I recently had one such phone call that left me with the impression the caller was trying to put out a tactical fire rather than build and send strategic smoke signals.

Articles and blog posts abound about what business owners and corporate marketers should ask agencies to see if there’s a fit. These should be reserved for either a face-to-face meeting or a longer scheduled phone call.  As you read over those articles, here are four questions and statements not to ask, especially over the phone:

1. “What would be your approach?” Until an agency owner or representative can sit down with you or spend some time over the phone to ask the right questions, they won’t have and should not offer any recommendations.  This potentially allows the client to prematurely latch on to a solution which may not even be close to solving their problem.

2. “We’re thinking about a press release.  Would that help?” Yes, media relations could be one of several tactics that can generate exposure, but most companies face additional issues beyond exposure, such as more compelling presentation of their company, together with more relevant messaging (we’ve found it can always be improved!). Press releases are tactical tools – one of many — not thoughtful strategy.

3. Can you get us a story in (insert name of publication/TV/Radio/portal/blog)? Targeting publications is a good idea… if the upfront work to know what messages are to be conveyed is done (which only comes from knowing much more about a prospect’s business). Other concerns include knowing who to contact and how they prefer to be approached, and crafting a story that is a good fit with their editorial slant or the blogger’s preference.

Many companies tend to gravitate to well-known media outlets that in many cases aren’t the best fit for their audience or their business and marketing objectives.  This is often because they don’t fully understand the potential depth and nuances of good publicity.

4. Can you submit a plan by the end of the week? Some agencies can work very quickly if they get access to key decision makers, have time to ask the right questions and can review existing business and marketing plans.

Questions are imperative.  As we’ve written in earlier posts, answering good questions invariably leads to a better outcome for both agency and client. Question number one is completely appropriate after spending some time with the agency.  Avoid the other three.  Because some questions are better left unasked.

Questions, Part 3: 13 Questions To Pin Down A New Product Launch

Keyboard question-mark

I won’t belabor the need for companies to think about the intended customer before they develop a product.  As it happens, PR/marketing folks typically are brought into the process after the fact.  With that, these are the customer-centric questions we ask before embarking on any plan for a new product or service launch:

  • What trend(s) do this new product and/or service capitalize on?
  • What would be the ideal behaviors (current situations, issues their facing, marketplace position, etc.) exhibited by the intended customer?
    Describe the intended customer:

    • Current customers (which ones)?
    • Prospects (which ones)?
  • What experiences does this offering provide for the intended customer?
    • Positive
    • Negative
  • How will the customer financially measure the value of this new offering?
  • Does this new offering require the customer to change anything? (i.e. current behaviors, processes, systems, etc.?)
  • How will this new offering new be adapted into the customer’s business? Describe training, implementation, conversion, usage, migration, etc.
  • What are the next best alternatives compared to this offering? (i.e. what does it compete against – competitors, other offerings from company, and the intended customer’s internal resources?)
  • Can partners provide help through co-marketing opportunities, leads, etc.?
  • Buying process – which positions at the intended customer company will recommend, approve and influence the decision to buy this new offering?
  • How will the sales force be trained in this offer?
  • What will be a successful launch? List the target revenue and profit contribution for this offering during the 6, 12, 18, and 24 months?
  • How do these intended results compare with previous new offering launches?

What customer-related questions do you ask?

Questions, Part 2 – What don’t you know about your client’s customers?

faq_signThe last question from yesterday’s post, “Would you consider your strategic planning process to be customer centric?”, is the perfect transition into today’s list about, you guessed it, customers.

You know how important it is to get them and keep them.  At the beginning of any engagement, we query the prospect about their customers and what drives their buying decisions.  Getting these answers will not only help your marketing direction, it will help your client find — and hopefully keep — satisfied customers.

  • What problems are your customers trying to solve?
  • Who are your most valuable customers?
  • What do your most valuable customers have in common?
  • What would the last 10 former customers answer to the following question, “What were the reason(s) you left us?” (If you don’t know their names, phone or e-mail, that’s a different issue.)
  • What is the next best alternative that your best customers have for your product, service or solution?
  • How do you leverage information gathered from your customers for direct customer benefit?
  • What are you teaching your customers and prospects?
  • What makes your company or product remarkable?
  • What are your primary tactics for acquiring new customers?
  • What percentage of new customers comes directly from direct selling efforts, marketing programs, customer referrals, or unknown?
  • Do you have a Customer Advisory Panel? Do you meet them on a regular basis (i.e. at least once per quarter)?

What questions about customers do you ask?

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Questions, Part 1

question-mark“Judge a man by his questions, not his answers.”
– Voltaire

Silver Bullet thinking goes down the slippery slope of making assumptions.  Like so many experienced marketing and PR people, we don’t like to assume anything.

When we engage prospects, we ask questions, about their marketing, about their business, about their industry.  You name it.  Ask the right kinds of questions and you’ll begin to sense that what a client needs isn’t necessarily what they want.

This is the first of several posts about the kinds of questions we ask, starting with strategy and planning:

  • Do you have a marketing vision?
  • Do you have a marketing strategy and plan for next year?
  • What issues are having an impact on your business, e.g. external influences that could change your business, both positively and negatively?
  • How are your sales, service, delivery and operational managers involved in marketing plan development and execution?
  • If you could measure only one economic driver at your company, what would it be?  Does this driver matter to your customers?
  • If you have multiple marketing groups (i.e. your company is organized by product and channel, or marketing functions such as research, promotions, web marketing, and communications), how do you align individual programs so that the customer is not confused?
  • Would you consider your strategic planning process to be customer centric?

What kinds of strategic planning questions do you ask?