The in-house client: Common challenges and how to face them

Many PR pros who don’t work in agencies are part of in-house integrated communications teams that take on agency-like structures. Research has shown that this type of structure is one of the essential characteristics of the marketing organization of the future. 

If you are part of one of these teams, it usually means you are providing advice and production services to internal client groups. 

This type of work can be a lot of fun, as it involves cross-functional collaboration in the effort to reach common organizational goals. There are however, some challenges faced by the internal account executive in managing these important stakeholder groups—especially if the internal agency configuration is new to your organization.

Here are just a few common challenges:

1. Perception that you are a service provider, not a consultant. Often, internal clients see the communications department as the place that produces brochures, writes news releases, or posts social media updates. Some internal client groups will approach you with a specific request rather than seeking advice on an all-encompassing strategy.

How to face it: Close the gap between PR strategy and tactics. Educating your internal clients about the difference between strategy and tactics is essential. Show them successful examples of objectives and research-based communications and highlight the results. This will help them understand that campaigns work better than one-offs and that your department’s expertise goes beyond writing copy and designing email headers.

2. Perception that you don’t understand their needs. You may be a skilled PR pro, but this sometimes gets overlooked if you don’t have a great deal of knowledge regarding your internal clients’ field, product, or service. Your client might not trust your advice or approach if he or she feels that you don’t grasp their needs.

How to face it: Research and constant communication. If you don’t have experience with your clients’ portfolio, do your homework. Read up on their offerings, history, competitors, previous communication strategies, and market research—the works. Also, offer to have them give you a crash course to better understand their business. It will make things easier when the roles are reversed and you are providing them with advice. Plus, it will contribute to enhanced cross-functional collaboration and help you and your team do a better job. 

3. Endless back-and-forth on decisions. The absence of billable hours in an internal shop can mean your clients will repeatedly come back to you with changes in scope, suggestions, and modifications. This hinders the overall efficiency and effectiveness of your strategy and can hamper your ability to deliver a project on time. 

How to face it: Implement a proper workflow process. A structured workflow that takes your client from the research and strategy phase to building ideas, tactical plan development, implementation, and measurement will help guide your projects and create a sense of discipline and shared ownership. Putting a workflow in place requires you to identify the steps required to bring a given project to life, as well as the requisite timelines, accountabilities, approvers, and processes. Create a master milestone charter of all the steps, and get your client to sign off on it so that he/she knows that an extra round of corrections or a last-minute add-in will compromise your deadline or incur additional costs.

Internal communications shops are forever attached to their clients, which makes establishing a healthy relationship and process essential. Continuous internal education and workshops will help cross-functional teams to better understand each other’s work. 

As PR pros we should share examples of how agencies and other organizations do things to help our internal clients understand how we can help them achieve our shared organizational goals. 

This post first appeared on PR Daily.

Making the Case for Brand Journalism

The majority of PR and marketing pros are buzzing about brand journalism. Last week I attended a workshop hosted by

Making the case for-Brand-JournalismRagan Communications’ Mark Ragan (@MarkRaganCEO) and Jim Ylisela (@jpyjr) on The Company as Media – Your role in the age of Brand Journalism & Content Curation.

Here are just some of the insights from this workshop that can help us make the case for brand journalism in our organizations.

(1) A catalyst for integration. PR and marketing teams may have “beef” with brand journalism, because both functions think they should own it. Turning your site into a storytelling vehicle that provides content your customers actually want to read and share can have an impact on conversion. Why not use this as an opportunity for PR and marketing to collaborate more closely?

(2) Taking a balanced approach yields results. You are NOT talking about yourself; you are essentially becoming a trade publisher. Tell stories about your organization’s people and its area of expertise and pair this with content curation about the industry. Content marketing efforts should not be propaganda. Many companies hire journalists to act as internal reporters and take a more ‘unbiased’ stance and tone.

(3) Why write a news release when you could write a story? So many organizations are still tied to the news release. Some that have storytelling vehicles on their websites duplicate their efforts by using both. There is no need to do this with brand journalism. You can publish a story that resembles what a journalist would write on your site and then send a targeted pitch to your media contacts.

(4) Great content + engagement = success. Nowadays we have to make sure to get people to our site, but we also need to get our site “out there” (i.e. on social media platforms, via email, etc.) If you provide your customers with content that they find useful and interesting they will actually take the time to read it, and even comment on it or share it. By becoming a go-to source of trustworthy information you also drive them through the conversion funnel.

(5) Stories with impact. Your content should make your audience’s life better. It should be relevant, useful, entertaining, consistent, transparent, and targeted towards their needs.  It should practice what Mark Ragan refers to as ‘refrigerator journalism’ – so good that you want to post it on your fridge. Therefore, it should be free of jargon and corporate speak. Keep it crisp, brief and to the point – just like what you might see in your favourite magazine.

(6) The best way to showcase your expertise. Your organization’s brand journalism site is a vehicle to share the range of expertise you have that surrounds your brand. Mark and Jim use the example of Export Development Canada’s online magazine Export Wise that provides advice for Canadian exporters. The content looks like what you might see in The Economist. A brand journalism site can also be useful to your salesforce, as it allows them to easily share stories with clients or prospects.

(7) Creates brand ambassadors. Involve your employees in your brand journalism stories – they will be your best brand ambassadors. They have great stories to tell about your organization at the operational level. Content marketing begins from the inside: engage your employees and encourage them to share.

(8) Takes a strategic approach. Effective brand journalism begins with your strategy. Take a look at your objectives, resources, key messages. What are you trying to achieve? Start with a communications audit to take stock of what you are currently doing to connect with your stakeholders and how content marketing fits in. Build a content strategy, a news desk and an editorial process. Decide on which tools to use for your main site and social media. Determine how you will measure success on your brand journalism site and trace how it leads to conversion (leads, sales, relationships, etc.).

(9) Closes the gap between media sites and corporate websites. Your site doesn’t have to be dull, transactional and text-heavy. By turning it into media site, you can still provide the information and services that your audiences need, but keep them interested along the way. This means changing how we write stories and how we share on social to ensure that they are audience-centric, must-click pieces. Turn your press releases into features, convert expert evergreen interviews into blog posts and pull good stories from research and whitepapers.

Creating a good content marketing strategy and building a vehicle to carry it through is a lot of work. It requires rethinking the way organizations have done things for years and taking on a less me-centric approach to communicating your content. The workshop I attended really highlighted how brand journalism focuses less on corporate priorities and more on the audience. Often understanding that focus on the latter will benefit the former is half the battle.