not communicating value

How Not to Get Eaten by Economic Zombies

This post was originally published at Words For Hire and has been updated with additional information.

I am convinced that if aliens invaded the earth, they would eat the communicators first. This belief has been shaped by years of watching public relations and marketing functions get cut when organizations are looking to save money. I watched the slash and re-staff cycle throughout my career and as an independent have seen the same logic applied when companies slash budgets or eliminate outsourced partners entirely.

So, if the zombies show up, forgive me if I leap over your head to scramble to safety.

Often, when companies are faced with a need to trim their expenses, they view public relations and marketing as the fat of the company. In the heat of the battle, your hard work can be reduced to press releases, tweets and pretty brochures. Ugh. I could successfully argue that this is a big mistake. I could even provide examples of how cutting these departments hurts the bottom line, but today I want to focus on a different perspective. We get treated like the fat that can be trimmed away because we hide our true value under muumuus. It’s time we wear form fitting clothes that show organizations that we’re not fat, but muscle.

Communication pros often do a rotten job of communicating our true value. We serve others beautifully. We deliver market and audience insight, position brands and rise to the challenge in the face of crisis. Yet, we often do not provide information about how our work solves the problems that the C-suite cares about.

At the heart of all public relations tactics is a strategy. While others may focus on tactics and output, we know that those things are secondary to a solid strategic plan. To develop this strategy, we must know the business, understand the big picture vision, know the market, be ahead of industry shifts and know the competition. We do all this but we don’t articulate it, and we fail to fight for our seat at the executive table where our voices can be heard.

As a result, executives see us as those with creative intelligence but may miss or devalue our broader insight and it’s our fault.

It is painful to admit that you missed signs and failed to advocate for your own business, but it happens to us all. Many of us have faced a client who wants to cut their budget (code for we don’t get why we’re paying you) or is questioning what public relations is really doing for them. All your metrics and charts and case studies dissolve into nothingness when you have failed to make it clear not only what you do but how you do it and how that integrates into what the company cares about. Ouch.

As communicators, we must lean in and take our seat at the strategy table. Here are three tips that you can use to better communicate your value to your clients.

  1. Have the business discussions and make sure that you are aligning what you do with what matters to the company (Hint: It’s money – making it, saving it- but it is always money). More importantly, learn to talk about it in a way that matters to those who are listening.
  2. Discuss success metrics. When onboarding a new client, discuss and decide on how you will measure success. You should not try to figure out the value of media coverage after it has happened. How does a strategy fit into your client’s goals? How can you measure that attainment?
  3. Show and tell. Focus less on activities and outcomes in your client reports. Don’t assume that clients understand that peanut butter, jelly, and bread make a sandwich. Do the work by showing them how what you do comes together and what it means to them.

Even with your best efforts, there will always be clients who do not see the value. However, improving how you articulate value will also help you find more clients who appreciate it. It also keeps you accountable to what really matters to your client and can protect you from getting eaten first

We want to hear from you, how do you communicate your value to clients? What can we do better?