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Service and Product

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A version of this post initially appeared on SixtySecondView.

It has become apparent that agencies need to act like product companies as well as service companies and that being both raises new challenges.

At Edelman, we take service seriously. We have had a service quality feedback system called Edelman Excellence (E2) since 2002 which sends an online questionnaire to clients, independent of the account teams, every six months. Client scores and qualitative feedback are relayed to the account teams and regional leadership. I receive aggregate scores by office and for the region as a whole. We also have a sophisticated New York based Quality team that helps my account teams with service solutions when problems are identified. It is all very transparent and accountable and it is remarkable how the financial success of an office tracks to their Q scores. Quel surprise!

One of the reasons this works for us is that the task formerly known as PR was (mostly) a classic service offering, relying on a long-term commitment between agency and client, codified in an annual program and legally bound by a retainer contract. That program mostly included an activity plan, but the nature of the task meant that what actually occurred in a twelve-month period often bore little resemblance to the formal plan agreed upon at the outset of that contract. Nearly always, that was for good reason. One of the strengths of the PR industry was our ability to accept the world as it was and adapt to events and sentiment, something clients have always valued and demanded.

However, on top of that approach, we now work with many clients on a project-by-project or scope-by-scope basis, addressing specific business and communications issues. Smart in-house communications and marketing teams realize they need us for our expertise, objectivity, creativity, reach or muscle and call us in to address that for them. But they do not necessarily want us hanging around, cluttering up their receptions in between. Often, these briefs are very sharply written and have a real focus. Some of our best work and biggest clients work that way.

For a while now, we have codified much of what was part of service as a product aimed at a specific need. This “productization” (apologies) has become super charged as we increasingly move into working with data to drive insight and programming across increasingly global platforms.

Here are a few of our recent examples:

  • Dashboards and insight and analysis products;
  • A defined approach, driven by technology, to address social customer service;
  • Social business diagnostics and methodologies to help clients unleash the power of social media inside their businesses;
  • A unique method of using paid media to fuel social-by-design content strategies with all the back office procurement and tracking solutions necessary;
  • Search optimization products, updated and relaunched as often as search engines change their algorithms;
  • YouTube influencers methodology with training programs on how to contract and manage “new age talent;”
  • A bespoke version of the Edelman Trust Barometer for clients wishing to track their fortunes against their sector, competitors and across markets.

Defining emerging client needs; creating offers and the technology required; testing, updating and adapting it; launching it across the business; training teams; re-training; then marketing it to clients and prospects is a non-stop process.

We still pride ourselves on service quality, but increasingly our differentiation is in our ability to offer products and technologies, and that requires a different type of investment appetite and management culture. For agencies wishing to transition from the the task formerly known as PR to a more modern approach this can be a big barrier.

David Brain is president and CEO of Edelman Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa.

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