Crossing the floor, part II

Crossing the floor, part II 1920 1280 Caroline Klein

I was recently asked what surprised me about working in an agency after many years of in-house roles.

It prompted me to reflect on the blog I wrote on this topic shortly after joining Haggie Partners, which is coming up to five years ago.

Looking back at what I said then, much of it still rings true. Five years ago, I noted that “my work now involves understanding clients’ needs – what their strategy and priorities are and how we can help them to achieve those aims. I listen to them, advise on issues, have meetings, discuss over emails and phone calls, draft articles and press releases, and deal with journalists. That’s pretty much what I did in-house too.” That is still true, although as my network of contacts, friends and clients has expanded across the market, my ability to advise from a broader perspective has certainly grown.

In addition, my conclusion was that whether your clients are at the next desk, on the other side of town – or even the globe – the key is to be confident in your expertise and the value that you can offer as a PR adviser. That is also as true as ever: your clients will have faith in you if you have faith in yourself, and so continuing to learn, question and challenge yourself are vitally important to keep your skills up to date and consistently supportive.

But what did surprise me when I joined?

Undoubtedly, what I hadn’t realised was how passionately involved PR agency teams often feel, how much they care about their clients’ successes and failures, or the significant degree to which their clients’ highs and lows matter to them.

Perhaps my epiphany says much about my cynicism and my assumption that external advisers are essentially only there to bring in fees, and being one step removed from the internal detail means that they feel less connected to the business. I am sure there is a cluster of cynics out there who would agree vehemently with this assessment.

But over the past five years it’s become ever clearer to me that external agencies do take to heart the fortunes of their clients. Award wins are greeted with a roar of approval, eloquent interviews and articles with pride, strong financial results with satisfaction, and personal news such as births and marriages with delight and a rush to the card shop.

Or perhaps it’s just Haggie Partners.  I would say that of course, but the atmosphere amongst our team is certainly that which I’ve just described.

Perhaps we need to communicate it better.  Does the PR industry need to do better PR for itself? Some recent articles in The Sunday Times would suggest that at least the biggest agencies should be prepared for a degree of scrutiny that they have hitherto not been concerned with, and so perhaps they should consider what image of themselves they wish to project.

It is my firm belief that the culture of a business is critical both internally and externally. Clients want to deal with advisers whom they can trust, who have their back, who are reliable and knowledgeable, who care about their fortunes and will communicate clearly and honestly with them. No firm would hire an external agency that is patently uninterested in its clients’ ongoing success.

Equally, the culture internally is deeply formative in building the mindset of team members – particularly younger ones who may be in their first fulltime job, but also the more experienced and – dare I say it – the more cynical colleagues. They will learn from the top and if they see senior colleagues committed and passionate about their roles and their clients, then that is what they will absorb.

Enthusiasm, knowledge, integrity, creativity and excellence all create a virtuous circle that ensures our clients are backed by a vigorous support system. Now all we have to do is make sure they know it.