Accelerating Value
Accelerating Value

Episode · 1 year ago

Lisa Sullivan: The Value Proposition of PR


Lisa Sullivan, Partner, Managing Director Technology Practice at Ketchum, spoke with us about how the value proposition of PR has changed over the course of her career. Not only is PR being perceived more as a two-way street, but communications is serving an even more important role in creating value.

We also talked about:

- Characteristics of good PR

- Combining art and science into PR decisions

- Two challenges that the number of communication outlets presents

- PR value in the B2B context

- Internal PR: employee communications

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Today, every budget approval is an investment deal. If you're a marketer, sales or business leader, you had to promise to deliver value and impact. Writing the wave to get there is hard enough. Finding your way through the storm is even harder. If you're looking for that path forward so that you don't wipe out, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Hey, everybody, this is marks Douce, the host of accelerating value, your weekly podcast about all things having to do with value creation. As you've heard me say many times now, you know, we talked to a lot of different kinds of people on this podcast about how they see value, how they think about it, how they build it, how they prove it, how they defend it right. It's one of those things where the conversations are always interesting and it takes us in many, many different directions. Our guest today is is actually one of I've known Lisa for long time, longer than both of us probably want to say, and Lisa Sullivan is a full partner at Catchum, which is one of the top global PR and communications agencies. It's a it's a storied agency. It's been around for quite a while. She leads their Global Tech Practice headquartered in San Francisco, near the embarkader row, but of course, like all of us right now, working virtually, in her case from the middle of the forest in marine so not exactly tough duty. Welcome, Lisa. Thank you for having me. Absolutely so let's just let's kind of get into it, because PR is sort of one of those things that, depending on the decade, really right that we're talking about it has meant different things two different people. It's value has changed or the way people see its value has changed. Person I don't think it's actual value really is changed, but certainly the way people see it. How I mean you've been doing this for a while. How have you seen it, the value proposition of PR change over this the course of your career? I think you're right that the value itself has changed less than the perception of that value. I think people always used to think and talk about PR as a one way street, as the communication of a message to a public of some kind and description, and I think that as has been posh of the story for for a long time, but certainly not all of the story, and I think good pr good communications, has always been a two way street. It's just that it is now being perceived more that way and I think as we think about how we help our clients, it's being an external eye and ear and it's helping our clients understand how to engage in a two way dialog, a two way conversation with their stakeholders, whether the whether those stakeholders are customers, partners, employees, investors. I think thinking about the stakeholder audience through a much, much broader Lens. So one of the things about that they would seem to be really important today is the speed with which that conversation happens. Technology is certainly part of that right as an enabling factor, not only for calms but for a lot of other errors. How has the human factor, particularly on the client side, how is that adjusted, or has it adjusted during this time in terms of being able to keep pace with the rate of conversation? I think in many ways it is helped dramatically.

We get far fast of feedback loops now than we ever used to. And I'll date myself by saying my first job and PR was literally mailing press releases out, and that's not that long ago. Right where we literally would stick a press release in an envelope and mail it with the next day's date on it. It's so farign to us now thinking of that as a as an acceptable pace of communication. This what we're what we're seeing today is we get far faster to feedback loops. It's much more direct, it's we're able to use a really broad range of tools and technologies to be able to help us capture and understand how those conversations are shaving and I think that that isn't in many ways. While well, the input is much richer and faster. That's that's really helpful for US and being able to cancel clients in the way that they think about that engagement. Do you find o that there's are they struggling in some cases to from a human perspective or from an organizational perspective, to keep pace with that right? I mean it's sort of like you can get that feedback loop right and then if they takes too long for them to kind of get their response together and have it legally approved and all this kind of stuff, it gets sort of, you know, loses something right the conversation has moved on. I think that's I think that's absolutely right. Ails the other challenge, I think, is that the the classic how do you distinguish between signal and noise and when there is so much coming back at you? And I think again, it's human, it's very human to react to what you see in front of you, and I think it being being able to distinguish between the single and the noise and unders ending what's what's important and having, frankly, the the confidence and the Strategic Direction and oversight to focus on what's important, not for not focusing on everything that's urgent, and I think that that's something that that, especially with pace, is difficult to do a scale. So then let's so that's a actually a really super important part of value creation in anything, not just PR right right. How do you, when you're sitting there with your with your customer, with your clients or, you know, on a video conferences, we are now right and you're counseling them about this, like, what does that look like today? Because a lot of your value, your ability to create value, is is actually dependent on their reaction time. That's right. And so how do you, how do you sort of help them make this adjustment when the natural human reaction is to slow it down? So this is sort of like to give you a to give everybody kind of a another example of this. This is why real time data, real time analytics is is actually only meaningful to a computer because the natural human rain and decisionmaking process can't keep up. It's not that the human brain isn't smart enough to keep up, it's the it's that the natural human tendency is to say, Whoa, Whoa, got it. You know, give me at least five minutes to think about this, when you may not have five minutes. That's right, that's right, but I think the first choice is which of the which of the data points or the inputs that are worth spending five minutes on? Right? How how do you take that, the the art and science that the data and the human elements and make them work together to be able to really understand what are the highest value opportunities' was the phrase. Don't sweat the small things, and you realize they're all small things in some ways, but some of them are big and some of...

...them need focus on attention, and I think that's where, particularly having an external focused lens through everything is really important to a lot of our clients to be able to understand what not to do. Just just as important to make that decision that it is to understand what to do. So one of the other parts of this right, which has been true about pr and for the other similar professions like law, very very important for decades, is the confidence and trust that exists between the counselor or the practitioner right and the client. Right. This is all also something you know, Rome was not built in a day and trust and confidence with a new client isn't either. But and yet the reality of the world we live in keeps moving on regardless. Right. What are what are some of the lessons that you've learned that you could share with our audience about how you build confidence and trust with your clients fast? I think the first part is hard, and especially it's been especially hard over the last sixteen months. There is still no real substitute for being in a room with people, being able to lick them in the eye and build that human connection, and I think that's something that we've all struggled with over the last sixteen months. The first thing that I think about when I think about building a relationship is that thinking about it on two tiers. So the first tier is what's what are the immediate things that we can do? Where can we where can we get some quick wins? Some how can I alleviate an immediate challenge? How can we, how can we do something together that that gets us a shared experience and and a shared success? And then, in parallel with that, thinking about understanding that person's longer term goals, both as a professional in there, in their current role, but also as a human, as a as a person. What what drives that person, will motivates them, and how just the Tusk that we have collectively decided to undertake together fit into that. So really thinking about it on those those two layers, that the short term and then the longer term, both professional and personal. But in your case, to be fair, you have a secret weapon, at least at least in the American context and the American content American context, and it's a British accent and ham up the accent whenever it whenever it helped. There's no say in that, there's no shation, it just exudes credibility there. I know so many people at this has come up in so many different conversations. It's actually really funny because there's so many Americans, particularly in in service related, professional services related jobs. Right. I was just having this conversation last week with a guietic center. That's why it's sort of top of mine and and he was like, I would just pay, I would pay to have a public school accident. That's hilarious. Well, maybe that too side good. Could in language. Yeah, well, I would probably also, if you did it with enough Americans, it would lift the whole thing. Right. So, okay, next question. Has the change in the number and kind of makeup of outlets, news outlets, other other kinds of outwards? Has it changed the value proposition of PR has it diminished it as it increased it? How do you see that? I think it's made our job more difficult in many ways, but I think for me it's increased our value dramatically. I think the the once scarcity drives more value in general. I think that that's true. And so many written so many parts...

...of the world. So I think the scarce of the opportunity, the more valuable each of those each of those opportunities is. I think where where it's made our jobs more difficult is in two places. One is that competition is just fiercer and fiercer for those for those opportunities you have. A piece in the journal, a piece, a piece on the BBC is more coveted and there's more competition for that mind share now than I think that has been before. But it's also created a challenge for us in helping clients understand value in a different way. When, when I started in this industry and for a for a much longer amount of time than I think it should have been, our value was was literally measured in the weight of the clippings book, right, or the volume of pieces of coverage or the volume of impressions, and that that's it was never the best way of measuring but as time has gone on it has become even less valuable and I think it that for us, really shifting that mindset of not not being a volume driven business, not counting our success based on based on those matrics, has been, has been an opportunity but also a challenge and I think as we as we continue as an industry to work through what the replacement for that as a measurement metric is and what that looks like, it is there's still a lot of conversation to be had there. We're making really good progress but I think there still the still conversation to be had in clients are coming coming along at different paces as well. You think that it's that it's also better understood today the value of a news story not happening. I do. Yeah, I think it's better understood but equally stiff, still difficult to measure. But yeah, absolutely, I think. You know, there's there's that sort of hidden value of for measuring what, measuring what would have happened had had something occurred that didn't. But yeah, I think that's absolutely true. Yeah, I think what we've seen is that, particularly during two thousand and twenty, two thousand and twenty really sharpened up a lot of people's understanding of courage. They wanted to be a part of in the courage. They didn't want to be a part of HMM. Right. And and if there was ever a year that totally destroyed the the old Hollywood publicity maximum about you know, all, all, everything's good, as long as they spell your name correctly. You know, two thousand and twenty definitely just I mean, I think it was not true for many years. Right, for many years. Yeah, but but it kind of hung on in a lot of people's minds until two thousand and twenty. Yeah, well, I think this is something that you and I've spoken about a lot in the past as well, is that where does pr have the greatest value, particularly in a bit to be context. Is it awareness or is it behavioral change, and at what point in the cell cycle does that happen? And I think that old build old publicity is good. Publicity Maxim only holds true if you think of publicity as being purely an awareness driver. Yep, absolutely so. So let's let's go there, because that's actually a really important part of all this, right, and that is that so edelman, for example, has its trust parameter. One of the things that they got right about that a long time ago was is that it really does all come down to trust, or a blend of trust and confidence, which are two different ideas. They've never really, though, translated that into how it monetizes or somebody when we when we think about top of the funnel, halfway through, bottom of the funnel, where do you think pr is strongest today, understanding that it's playing in lots of different places right, but that it you...

...know, for example, one of the things we see a lot in the analytics is that it's disproportionately impactful at the bottom because people are trying to triangulate the truth, and so what they've seen in paid and own channels, they they certainly appreciated or are they consumed to some degree? Right? But approximately halfway through that decisionmaking process they completely disconnect from those channels and go into what we kind of used to call earned channels, that are kind of like the trust and confidence channels. How does I mean? How are you seeing the same thing? How is that? How how's it? How's it driving strategy for you guys? Yeah, no, it's a really good question. I agree. The models that we've that we've seen and that we use show the the value of Pur being yes, it awareness, absolutely, but then as you go through the cell cycle, it's more about your your own content. It's people that are doing if that are researching the fact put out by the business. They're they're in fact finding mode. And then as you get to the bottom of the funnel and you're bringing in other decisionmakers or other influences of a sales cycle, that's where they earned piece seems to come back in really strongly again. So I definitely agree with that. I think where the impact that that has on strategy is that we are. One of the questions I always ask when we take when we start working with a new client is how close to you not only with your marketing counterparts, with with your sales team, and I think that often pushes clients to think a little differently and maybe outside of their comfort zone that the sales team isn't it seem that they typically have had to engage in very much. But I want, if I'm coming in, I want to have those conversations with the field sales to understand what they're hearing from their customers, where their pet where their pain points are within the funnel so that we can define a strategy that really helps meet that. If it's done right, it gives communications a different seat at the table versus being in the kind of the communications silo, right the Awareness Silo, and I think is we're seeing more and more communications leaders taking on also executive leadership roles within their organizations. It's critical that they're able to have those kind of conversations with their c sweet peers on an unequal footing. So I think that's that's been one of the bigger shifts for from my perspective in the last couple of years. So let's talk about risk. I mean one of the things that a lot of CMOS, for example, get kind of nervous about with PR is that they don't control it. And and you know, one of the things that I up talking probably more than I thought I would talk about with clients is this is this eternal relationship between risk and reward. How do you, how do you think about this today when you're counseling a client WHO's concerned about risk, not only in terms of like getting fried in the pressed unintentionally or whatever? Right, I mean, we were talking before we started recording about the CEOS who have made some perhaps in judicists comments about work from home and all that kind of stuff. So there's that aspect to it. There's also this kind of the more meat and potatoes aspect to okay, you've created a campaign, you're executing the campaign. It takes time for a campaign to work, but you can't just go forever in the hopes that it will start to finally work. How do you counsel clients in that respect? Also, right about okay, you know what? We've given it the old college try. It's four months in, it's not, nothing's happening. We're going to kill this now and do something else. Yeah, it's a good question and I think that meet and potatoes risk is a foam more common conversation in...

...many ways than the bigger risk. Right, the more the more visible one, because I think it is more front of mind for people that are particularly thinking about, you know, responsible stewardship of budget. I think of it again, not almost on the same kind of two track level that I talked about with building relationships. It's you. How do you take a big campaign and a big program that has a lofty goal, but then break that down into into manageable, measurable pieces so that you're able to show momentum and learn as you go, so that you're not you're not waiting for the end of a campaign to understand whether it was successful, but you're able to see and agree on progress and success along the way. That gives you the data points to decide either to, you know, worse case, pivot completely but frankly, best case tweak as you go. If you're waiting until four months in, you've used that opportunity. So when I think the best the best programs the best relationships or whether are those touch points where you're there agreed up front, you know what you're looking for, you know what success is going to look and feel like, so that you can learn and build from that as you go along. Are there other leading indicators that you have found that repeat enough across clients and across situations where they're sort of like an early signal or either success for Baillier, that you can kind of depend on, you can extractlate from? I think even more, many ways, more about how the conversations are had. From a relationship standpoint. I think the indicators are different in many cases for from one client to the next. It's hard to find something that's the static. But when I think about coaching the team Orr replicating some of the successes that we've had, it it's more it's more about the relationships and the kind of guard rails around the conversations. So one one other question. Actually had two more questions, but one of the next one is you know, for years and years and years, employee communications or internal calms or you know, went by different names. Right was sort of the redheaded step child. Right to to external right to PR have you. I mean I think I know the answer to this, but I really want you to elaborate on this. How big was two thousand and twenty in terms of changing that dynam is mick, that kind of thoughts that I make. Yeah, and I think, as with many of the trends that we saw in two thousand and twenty, it wasn't new. Right the the the rising importance of employee communications and employee engagement, it was nothing new. It was just turbo charged by everything that happened in two thousand and twenty. I think the same is true across across many areas of our world, but that is particularly visible one. But when I when we think about the visible power that employees have to to shape and direct how a brand is perceived externally, it's huge and I think that the understanding of employees as not just one of your stakeholders but probably one of your most important stakeholders, really took on a sharp focus last year and that's something we're seeing across the board. You know, I think technology came into a particularly stuck spot light as real as released employ comes, but it's something we're seeing across the board with all of our clients. In like what a is there something that comes immediately to mind. That's it's sort of like, in terms of companies reaction to the shift that they're doing differently today from, say, eighteen months ago. Yes, I think there's a couple of things. I think on a tactical and execute executional level, again,...'s back to that being an engagement and a conversation. I think we always used to think about, or many companies thought about, employee comes as being town hall meetings and emails right, very much a broadcast, one too many opportunity. That's just not case anymore. That the the the engagement, the different the tools that you use to communicate a very different I think it were as a as a as an industry and as a society, was still working through what that will mean in a hybrid world and how we continue to keep employee engagement front of mind when you've got some people who are literally right in front of you and some that are not. And how do you how do you make sure that that value is as acquitable as possible? But I think that the idea of employees as ambassadors, the idea of employees as being in many ways to face off of your company, not just if not just frontline employees but your employees that that previously would not have been so visible to the outside world is driving a lot of strategic thought and change. You know, one of the things that we see a lot in the analytics over the last say, twelve, eighteen months on this is that it's really putting a spotlight on the fact that the quality of leadership all the way through the chain, right down to the down to the manager of three people, right or whatever, that the quality of that leadership and the trust and confidence that people have all the way up the ladder is either a major enabler of communication or it cuts it off the knees, even if you're doing all the mechanics correctly. That's right. That's right, and it is all of those levels. I mean all of the data that and again this is not, you know, not a surprise necessarily, but all the data we're seeing suggests that it's that direct manager relationship that has, in many ways the bigger impact versus is the the C suite level. That is too it's too far removed so from an employee comms perspective, really focusing on that middle level management as being a really key conduit for for your messages in both in both directions and really empowering that that leadership group. And that could be a challenge, particularly in technical world's where you you can rise to that level of management and leadership by being really good at your craft and being being smart with your tools. But the pressure and the onus on that group to be really strong people, managers and leaders is now very, very fierce and I think companies that do a really good job investing in that level, in the soft skill building of that level, are going to be the ones that really manage to differentiate themselves from a particularly for an employee retention standpoint. Yeah, I will really I want to say how much I really agree in support that statement because in my own career, so I long time ago, I entered HP as part of the merger with compact and I was one of the four global communications leads at that time. So it's like, you know, twenty years ago, I think you know. I mean we were doing a really good job and that was understood and so some of US got put into a management class about how to lead distributed teams, right, because we all had lots and lots of team members that were in other countries you know, or you know whatever other locations that that we might see once a year. And so how do you how do you build trust and confidence with a person like that? And it was probably, actually, I would say not probably, absolutely was one of the very, very best things that ever happened to me professionally. It built a series...

...of skills into me that I would not have been able to necessarily into it. And and so, and part of it, of course, is being authentic, but there are a lot of things that you can do from a kind of like a process point of you almost, that are going to magnify the quality of the relationship. And so it's just I really stress that. I really agree with what you're saying there. Yeah, it's interesting you go to process, because that doesn't feel intuitively necessarily like that that would be the thing that has the most impact. But I agree with you. I think giving people the tools and a structure and reminding forcing us to US US ourselves, to remind ourselves and each other that this has to be a piece of day every day. It's just it's so important. It's, you know, predictability. What people are really looking for as some sense of predictability, even in situations where it doesn't really exist. You know, I'm the CEO of a startup today and and when I communicate with shareholders, this is a really, really interesting dynamic because it translates directly. Even though they don't work for me, arguably I work for them. Right, it is, it's nevertheless right. I mean, things are changing so fast in a company like proof that you're always kind of sitting there going, you know, do I really want to communicate this right now, because I don't know whether it'll still be accurate a week from now? Right sometimes, and yet you know you have to a build a cadence of communication, but you also you have to kind of say, Hey, this is sort of kind of open Kimono, this is what we know, this is what we you know, don't know, and this is smary. You know, there's always going to be areas that fall into the I don't know, that I don't know category. And oh by the way, if any of you guys have any insights into any of this, is shareholders, I'd love to hear them. I think that's really interesting as well, though, and I think that's pot of trust. When you think about building trust with an individual, it's it comes to it comes from conversation, right, it comes from an exchange of ideas. It can't. Typically on a personal interaction level, you trust the people that you have that kind of it two way engagement with and I think any any relationship like that, if you can show some vulnerability and show that you don't know everything, counterintuitively that often leads to more trust. Right, we trust people who know their own strengths and weaknesses. But I think that translates to companies and brands as well. I think we aren't. We are left as a public. We are less and less willing to just take trust on face value and I think companies that suggest they have all the answers are are intrinsically going to struggle to convince their publics that that's the case. I think just as showing some vulnerability on a human interaction level has benefits, the same as true of brands to so, and that's a perfect segue into our last question, which is becomes sort of like a an artifact of of accelerating value, and that is at the personal level. So we think about our families, are communities, different causes that we really care about deeply. Right, how do you think about the value? Man, I'm not asking you to write your epitaph right or something like that right hot, but how do you how do you think about the value that you create personally? What's really important to you and what are you striving to do right now? But you can after after the last year, right, which was similar moment for all of us, right.

Yeah. So, well, as you know, mark, I fairly recently became a mother, but the first time. I have a delightful two year old little boy and I think that that experience, as with I think you know everyone who's gone through that, that changes the way that you think about value. And I look at that now through the Lens of what am I how am I shaping his world and his future and how am I creating an environment that I think he would be proud to live in as he as he grows up? So it's fascinating. I think we were reading recently that by the age of to the personality of a child is largely set and from that point forward it's really about the environment around them and that's a huge responsibility as a parent. So really, really trying to trying to make sure we're focusing on the right things the big things. I'll tell you this. From the facebook shots. Okay, his personality appears to include chocolate all over his face, a lot of very big personality. Oh huge. Yeah, now that that short little video or he was dancing around. Yeah, I mean, man, that was amazing. He's lots of joy, absolutely so. And and I can, I can think everyone who's a parent, right, would would say that that is one of those things that that none of us fully appreciated until we were, you know, already neck deep in it, right, and one of the things that I have found for sure is that it it keeps you young and makes you old all at the same time. Yes, indeed, Yep, okay. So what about the rest? What about outside your family? How do you think about like, I mean you and we look around the world today, in the world that can be defined however you want to write. And there's so much need today, so much I mean, you can define it any any kinds of ways. It's the opposite of value. It's the dearth of value. Right, how do you, how are you thinking about that these days? I mean, there's and there's not really a right or wrong answer here at all. Obviously, it's it's kind of inextricably bound up in where anyone is in their own life. Yeah, it is, and I think having lit, having had the privilege of living and working in so many different parts of the world and being connected to people and so many different parts of the world, I think for me on a on a personal level, and there's only so much you know, you can do, but I think being being a part of driving conversations that lead to understanding between different groups, if that, if there's one thing that I can do in my in my personal life, it's continuing to try and make those connections. The world is a small place, but when it's siloed it's feels bigger and I breaking down those silos, building conversation between groups that don't necessarily understand one another is, as I think, the only way that we're going to address that, and I think it's particularly coming out of the communications and media world and recognizing how the fragmentation of our space has has led to, or at least exacerbated those or shawn a light on, depending on your point of view, the silos within society. I think if as a as a communicator by by profession and as a as a connector and traveler on a personal level, helping to drive some of those conversations that can break that...

...down as that's that would be my goal. Okay. So, so I think that's a fabual the answer, but a begs one more question. Okay, right, and I'm and I'm I know that I'm asking you to kind of like steer into a crystal ball and all that kind of stuff. Do you think that Brexit will stand? I do. I do. For How long? You know, it's funny. I will, I will share my personally put my personal opinion on it, which is that I wish it had never happened and I think the execution of it has been a phenomenal waste and waste of resources and distraction from what's really important. I think, in a weird kind of a way, though, the impact is not going to have been as big as perhaps we thought it was going to be, and I think that the communities and the way that the way that the economy, the way that society is structured, is actually not that not as bound by Brexit as perhaps we thought it was. There's a lot to that, right. I mean water always finds its own level. That's right. All that kind of right. So I think for all that I was, I am still very against the concept. I actually don't think the impact is going to be as deep as I feared it would be. So maybe I'm just an eternal optimist, but I think, I think you're right with the water analogy. I think people will find the right the right way, and hopefully didn't, even if it's a system of workarounds, that's right, that's right. Exactly exactly? Is it the most effective way to get there? Probably not. Was it? It's a lass, a waste of results? Absolutely, but that's nothing. It is what it is. Lisa, thank you so much. This has been a really great podcast. Guys, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do. I'm not necessarily an exemplar of everybody out there that might be watching this, but one of the things that I try to do is I try to create conversations that I think or special, and I think we've done this here. I hope so. I hope you enjoy it very much. Thanks too much. See you next week. The sooner you can optimize your marketing spend, the quicker you can start delivering clear, measurable value to Your Business. That's exactly where business GPS from. Proof analytics can help learn more at proof analytics DOT AI. You've been listening to accelerating value, where raw conversations about the journey to business impact help you weather the storm ahead. To make sure you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. Until next time,.

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