Are there any tips that public relations can take away from high-level governmental negotiations? We think so. This week’s international machinations between the US and China and the US and Russia included the term “deconfliction.” This is the process of avoiding mutual interference, or outright hazards, among systems under the control of one’s own sides. We believe negotiations between PR specialists and clients also need to avoid “deconfliction” and other problems that can thwart a successful relationship. No matter which side of the table you’re on it pays to review the best ways to come to an agreement.
Reach consensus on achievable goals
From the outset, make sure there is mutual, agreed understanding on PR goals. In a recent conversation, we asked a potential client to prioritize the kind of exposure being sought. The conversation meandered a bit, but we persisted in framing and reframing the questions to get real focus on the company needs. This drilling down helped succinctly define the need for a higher percentage of consumer press with a healthy dose of B2B tech, a strategic approach we all agreed upon. Once the consensus is there and put in writing, the team can more easily craft a roadmap with reasonable expectations.
Use disciplined messaging
The same rules that PR teams use to prepare media spokespeople to stay on message in interview situations apply to client and agency negotiations. Terminology is very important and using the same language to describe certain contractual elements helps reinforce a position, avoid misunderstandings and keep both parties on the same page. In negotiating a PR agreement, it’s fundamental to understand your company’s offering and how to articulate it. For example, if there are specific services that are standard, such as a news bureau or certain thought leadership tactics, make sure those are understood. The urge to slip in “creative extensions” or other extras like events or social media work, can happen, especially if the language isn’t spelled out clearly.
Look for meaningful credentials and relevant examples
There’s a feeling you get when you suspect a PR team is right for the job. They exude confidence and a command of the room, that all scream “we are the right partner for you.” And when that is backed it up with concrete examples including case studies and testimonials, an agency client partnership begins to take shape. Look for case studies that bring work to life via video and other visual means. The best PR case examples also go beyond a pretty clip book and number of impressions like this clever work for Expedia. Potential partners want to see where a team moved the needle for a product or service. The best teams tout experience and expertise with some healthy braggadocio – not to be confused with arrogance, but a breezy, natural confidence, backed up by great examples.
Be prepared to counter bad behavior
We’ve all been in meetings, sealing the deal on a PR engagement, when an executive on either side acts inappropriately. Sometimes its “mansplaining,” cellphone use, lack of preparation or constant interrupting. While its always best to try tactics to overcome these bad behaviors, we have left meetings when someone was too rude to work with. Only a last resort, of course! Overcome these behaviors at the outset with a few tricks of your own. We like these tips:
Dress your best. If you look professional and well put together you will project confidence. People are very quick to size up based on looks – it takes about six seconds to judge someone you meet.
Walk into the room without hesitation, standing up straight with head held high. Initiate eye contact,and a firm handshake. Take a seat beside those who demonstrate an affinity or just a positive “vibe.”
Stake your space. Don’t allow yourself to be cowed by someone else’s “space creep” overtaking the table with their computer, coffee cup and other effluvia designed to make them look more important.
Be a good listener so you can evaluate what is being presented and ask relevant, pertinent questions to inform a good decision, not just put a PR firm through perfunctory paces.
Keep in mind that both sides need to understand what what they bring to the table and how to make the most of a PR relationship. Look for a firm to demonstrate how they do what they do and what’s in it for your company. If you’re not hearing clear business outcomes or benefits that can be expected from a strategic PR plan, speak up.
Finally, be clear about what is needed from each party to make a PR campaign successful. We like to get people talking about their company, providing news and anecdotes from the beginning. Often these conversations lead to interesting story angles we can use with press. It also sets the stage for our partners to move easily into a very collaborative role. People are more likely to get and stay engaged when given lots of opportunities to talk about what they do.
Know how flexible you can afford to be
Once the teams are talking money, its important for both sides to understand the program’s costs. Knowing the value of the firm’s services and what it will take for them to be both successful and profitable, makes for a sound start to any relationship. With any large investment, like retaining a PR firm, decision-makers need to understand why billing rates are what they are, or how much time certain activities take to implement. The firms should be expected to provide those answers, but the art of negotiation also means knowing before you walk into the meeting how flexible each of you can be. Negotiations should be probing, smart and civil.
Don’t leave the meeting until everyone’s satisfied
This is aspirational advice. Obviously some meetings need to be continued with revised proposals and “sharpened pencils.” But a successful meeting to finalize a PR partnership should involve healthy give and take, what professional negotiators sometimes refer to as “tit for tat.” Tit for tat states that a person is more successful in game theory if he cooperates with another person. Seems obvious and very much like one of the “what I learned in kindergarten” rules, although a bit more difficult to achieve in real-life negotiations. That said, leaving a meeting with all parties satisfied is the ideal outcome.