Sponsor Spotlight: Van Eperen

Every month or so, we are going to highlight a chapter sponsor so you can learn more about them, and possibly connect with them as they have done so much to support our chapter. We want to thank Laura Van Eperen, Founder and CEO of Van Eperen, for participating in the spotlight. Here are the details:

Laura Van Eperen, Founder and CEO of Van Eperen

Laura Van Eperen, Founder and CEO of Van Eperen

Q: Tell us more about Van Eperen and your role there:
Answer: Van Eperen is an award-winning, integrated communications agency that serves regional, national and international clients in the public and private sectors. We blend PR, digital, social and creative strategies to drive meaningful results. I founded Van Eperen in 2004 to deliver on promises made to clients during the search process. I worked as a broadcast journalist for five years and then transitioned to communications. In total, I’ve been telling stories for 23 years. Ethics, integrity, responsiveness and results are what drive me and my team of technology-savvy communicators who integrate innovative methods with proven principles.

Q: How long has Van Eperen been involved with PRSA-NCC?
Answer: Our Senior Vice President, Karen Addis, APR, has been an active member of the chapter for 30 years. In fact, the chapter recently profiled her in a Member Spotlight.

Q: Is there anything you want to tell our members about Van Eperen that we may not know?
Answer: When we say integrated, customized communications, we mean it. Van Eperen is up-to-date on the latest and greatest digital communications tools and technologies. We incorporate new platforms, processes and channels with traditional tried-and-true public relations practices to drive results for clients. From live-streaming videos, designing and developing websites, we can conceptualize and execute full digital campaigns as well as pick up the phone and land traditional media.

Q: What do you like best about working with Van Eperen so far?
Answer: The best thing about working at Van Eperen is the level of collaboration. We are a team of high-achieving seasoned strategists and practitioners and there are times when we are all in the conference room just brainstorming or collaborating on a single project. It’s always interesting to hear the new ideas and approaches from our millennial staff and it’s great to work directly with them on a regular basis because we learn so much from each other. We produce excellent client results because we are always on our toes.

Q: How can our members learn VanEperen_logo_tagline_RGBmore, get more information about what Van Eperen has to offer?
Answer: Members can visit our website at www.vaneperen.com, follow us on Twitter (@VanEperenAgency) and like us on Facebook. Feel free take a look at some of our blogs and join our mailing list to receive helpful content.

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Finding a PR Firm Isn’t the Piece of Cake it Used to Be . . . and It Shouldn’t Be

Time was, searching for a PR firm meant jotting down a few requirements and shooting it to a few former colleagues or friends of friends at two or three familiar agencies.

Sorry. Like everything else in life, finding the firm that will best serve your needs is no longer that easy. And it shouldn’t be. In today’s bottom line-focused ROI environment can you really invest six digits into an agency that may or may not be able to move the needle for your organization? You need to be assured you’re getting smart thinking and measureable results — and agencies should be accountable for their commitments to their clients.
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The agency landscape is wide, and wide open. Sometimes it feels like there are too many qualified agencies out there. But that shouldn’t guide you toward short cuts, or rushing the process. As we’ve pointed out many times to clients and prospects, if the money you have allocated to a PR agency budget were instead going toward the hiring of two or three full-time, professional staff, how much time and effort would you and your HR department spend investigating their backgrounds, capabilities, and knowledge?

The recently released USC Annenberg biennial GAP Study assessing PR industry trends and practices expects more money to be spent in 2014 and beyond for communications. The study of 347 senior communicators says that PR-related recommendations are being taken more into consideration by senior management, who expect the function to be a contributor to organizations’ financial success. Your organization should be selecting firms with proven experience in supporting your internal managerial needs as well as your overall communications goals.

Today’s agency field includes seasoned veteran agencies, mid-sized niche players, and a crop of very competent rookies that have left some venerable firms to blaze their own paths. Whether they are local, large, full service, or specialty, there are probably dozens of agencies out there most suitable for you. But the right agency can only be discerned through the lens of a detailed and thorough search that is tailored to your organization’s needs.

When interviewing prospective agencies it is critical to include process and procedure as key topics. Too often, we find confusion when the client-agency relationship begins if staffing, structure, reporting, billing, and event contracts are not discussed in the early phases. And, we’ve even advised clients that repairing agency relationships that have gone sour may be a better use of time and resources than parting ways with that agency and starting over with a new search.

Even agreeing on your mutual definition of success is no small feat, and so often is overlooked or not addressed during the selection process. With projects the issue might be easier (one would hope) but with longer-term, multi-year contracts it is very important to establish measureable benchmarks even before searching for your agency, and then making it clear that is what the selected agency will be judged on. Believe it or not, it will more appreciated than you’d expect. Because any good PR firm will tell you that a good client knows what it wants and has, or develops with the agency, the metrics of success.
– Robert Udowitz

Robert Udowitz is a principal of RFP Associates, a PR agency search firm serving trade associations and corporations. This was originally published on the RFP Associates “Cart Before the Horse” blog, which can be found at rfpassociates.net.

It’s About the Clients, Stupid

MonsterBy Peter V. Stanton

With the announcement of the Publicis-Omnicom merger, the first thought that comes to mind is “What about the clients?”

That does not seem to be the first thought in the minds of either CEO.  Maurice Levy of Publicis stated blandly that “…size will matter.” Omnicom chief executive John Wren said the merger would enable the new behemoth to “…leverage [my emphasis] a tremendous roster of global and local clients.”

What neither said was that the two-headed monster would be better able to “serve” its clients, or that the resulting conflicts were in any way beneficial to those clients.  Fundamentally, this is a bad deal for clients of both firms and a breach of the faith they entrusted in the individual firms at the time each was retained.

Whether it is advertising, marketing, public relations or anything else that falls within the broad definition of communications these days, what really occurs when a client engages a firm is that a relationship of trust is established.  The client trusts that the agency will share its business objectives and apply its best talent, creativity and energy to the realization of those goals.  After more than 30 years in the agency business, I have never known a client relationship to be about anything else.

Sure, clients want the work done economically and they want to know their firm has the resources to do the job in an efficient and creative fashion.  And surely on the ad side, there is the imperative to secure the best rates.  But in the end, it inevitably comes down to whether the client and the agency share the same priorities.

With Coke and Pepsi now under the same roof, how can that be so?  Of course: the new firm will claim that separate account teams and firewalls will ensure the integrity of the work.  Were this the merger of two law firms, one representing a plaintiff and the other a defendant, would that claim hold water?  It will not in this case either. That has been the fundamental flaw in the holding company model since its inception.  Not everyone has turned a blind eye.

At a recent meeting in Cracow of public relations agency heads from more than a dozen different nations, the common emphasis was on the importance of independence.   At a time in our industry when it seems every firm is somehow owned or allied with one of the global holding companies, there remains a strong commitment to independence and a view of its inherent value for clients.

The independents care about one thing – clients.  They mount fierce battles to win business against the global monoliths that increasingly are chasing smaller budgets in their desperate pursuit of growth.  Once independents win those clients, the quality of the work and the integrity of the service take over.  Within the independents, you still hear professionals discuss the “craft” of public relations or communications.  The independents dedicate senior professionals to every client engagement and not just to the sales presentation.  A firm president I admire stated recently that he has no interest in growing his business above a certain level because he believes only at a fairly modest scale can he assure clients the attention and care that is his hallmark.  Imagine the wrath that would befall a mega-agency head who set the firm’s business model at “small and client-centric” versus “growth-oriented.”

The requirement to meet shareholder forecasts leads to another major problem the global one-stops prefer you ignore.  Clients that have used the multi-nationals report an innate tension between their priorities and those of holding company shareholders.   The latter seek strong quarterly returns, while the former require a longer-term horizon.  Independents understand the periodic need to accept budget limitations or reductions from clients even as programs for those clients continue apace.  The emphasis in the independent firms is on long-term partnerships rather than short-term budget achievements.

In a field whose very name references relations, it is the relationships of trust between clients and agencies that matter most and produce the best results.  When those relationships are fostered, great things happen.  When they are subsumed to the interests of “size” and “leverage,” clients lose.

A presidential campaign was won in recent history on the basic statement, “It’s about the economy stupid.”  The campaign for the future of the communication profession might easily paraphrase that slogan in light of the Publicis-Omnicom merger.

Peter V. Stanton is the President and CEO of Washington, DC-based Stanton Communications. This blog entry originally appeared in his firm’s The Strategy Room Blog . Peter is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America and its distinguished Counselors Academy. He has served on PRSA’s continuing education faculty. He is published on the practice and principles of effective communications. He is a member of The National Press Club and holds graduate and undergraduate degrees from Loyola University in Baltimore. You can reach him though the Stanton Communications website and through Twitter.