PR Wars Podcast: What clients want

Today on PR Wars, we’re going to help you have a better relationship with your client. Our special guest, Allison Showalter is a Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at Red Hat and has experience on both the agency side and the corporate side. Let’s help your clients win!

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Announcer
It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars. Coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here’s your host, Chris Shigas!

Chris Shigas
Thanks for listening to PR wars. I’m Chris Shigas. Hey, you, agency folks. Have you talked to your clients lately? Is everything good? Are you sure? Well, today on PR Wars, we’re going to help you have a better relationship with your client. And joining me is public relations pro and fellow communications Pooh-bah, Brad Grantham.

Brad Grantham
Chris. I’m doing Well, crazy news week, as always, but I’m excited about this episode. Even brought a special hat to put on for it. So let’s get into it.

Chris Shigas
Thanks, Brad. And our special guest today has been on both the agency side and the corporate side. She’s a senior manager of Corporate Communications at Red Hat. She’s also a friend of the program. Allison Showwalter. Thanks for joining us, Allison, transitioning from agency life to corporate comms, obviously, was this a goal of yours and what were some of the reasons why you wanted to move out of agency work and go into corporate comms?

Allison Showalter
Yeah, so it had always been a goal of mine to get out of the agency landscape and move in-house. I have worked at four different agencies in my life, starting in Manhattan and then moving down to Raleigh, in my goal has always been eventually to find that great corporate comms position in house. took me a little while finally found it. The transition was not like drinking from a firehose, in terms of like the workload, it was almost kind of the information load was a little bit much in terms of, you have to deep dive so much more when you’re in house than you’ve ever had to do at an agency at an agency, you’re able to operate, maybe at that 10,000 foot level. You don’t have to know the minutiae, and all of the players and all the processes and all of the things that you have to do in house. So from that perspective, it’s a bit of a firehose coming at you. But the URI part is that your day was more focused. You didn’t have to change directions, 14 different times. When I walked in, I knew exactly what I’m doing. I know what I’m going to be focused on. I know my priorities. I know what things I have coming on, and there’s less of those fire drills that I think you get an agency world because you have five to 15 clients depending on your workload. So you experience a little bit more of that crisis and Almost like a ping pong in agency world going back and forth between things.

Brad Grantham
Allison, talk to us a little bit about your focus. Now obviously, it’s much different than it was when you were an agency world. How much do you like it? And, you know, what does your day look like?

Allison Showalter
But definitely, I think I love it. I think it’s fantastic. The focus is amazing for me. And it doesn’t mean that the days less varied. In my current role, I cover so many different parts of our business, but I know what the priority is, and I’m able to set that priority. I think that’s the biggest thing I think between agencies and in house is your leading a little bit more of your career, your workload, your priorities on any given day. When you’re on the agency side. Every client is the most important client. So if they all have something they want you to do on a Tuesday, you’ve got to do that. But in house, I can say to somebody, you know what, we’ve got a big event this week. We need To table this press release media outreach blog event, whatever it is, off until next week.

Chris Shigas
if we start looking at some of the good things about agency work… I came out of a newsroom, Brad came out of a newsroom. And the agency life had the same similar pace. You know, in a newsroom, you’re working a lot of different stories at the same time, a very fast paced environment. And agency life is the same way you have a lot of different stories that you’re working on very fast paced, it’s hard to get bored for you that transition from agency life into corporate comms. Were you surprised by the pace? Or was the pace similar or in some ways just different?

Allison Showalter
I think it’s different. I say the pace of an agency. I think people talk about that all the time have you got to keep up with the pace, the pace, the pace, and I think it’s not so much the pace of the work. It’s more to me I look at it as the demands that are on you by how Many different people. So I would say I’m equally busy, if not more busy on some days in house, but it’s just different. I’m not answering to 20 different people who have no concept of what else I’m working on in my day. So you can have a little bit more transparency, which I think is helpful. helping somebody understand, like, these are all the things I have on my plate, right now, you want to add four more, Something’s got to give an agency world you really don’t have some of that flexibility. All clients want what they want when they want it, and they’re the ones paying the bills, so you do have to kind of kowtow to what they want and make sure you get things done. You have a little bit more. Again, I think it’s that transparency, you have a little bit more control a little bit more transparency into what you’re working on. Also, I think in house, there’s a little bit more, or at least I have in my role, I have experienced a little bit more respect and understanding from people internally. Like let’s say a business unit comes to me and wants a press release and that’s not necessarily The right way to go. They look at me as an expert. They take my opinion a little bit more. A lot of times, I feel like I felt like an agency, their stuff you had to do, again, because it was the client and it might not have been the thing that you would have recommended. Maybe it is sometimes it was sometimes it wasn’t. But I think working in house, again is that control, you have a little bit more influence, you have a little bit more, you can influence that strategy a little bit more, at least that’s been my experience is I’ve taken so much pride in being able to set a strategy and implement a strategy and see it to fruition and have the trust and the confidence of people around me knowing that I’m an expert in this area, and I know what I’m doing and if they just let me go do it. The result is going to be great.

Chris Shigas
Well, we do some of the challenges of working in an agency in the stress, and making sure that you’re getting paid by each client per month, and you’re servicing all those clients. I for one, don’t regret my agency experience at all. It’s part of who made me who I am. It really sharpens your skills as a PR professional. So tell me how you feel about people who are working in communications that come from an agency background, they look at the world a little differently, don’t they?

Allison Showalter
One hundred percent. And I can say that I haven’t done the full research into it. But I’m pretty sure that 100% of the people that are on the court comm team at Red Hat right now have agency background. And there’s a reason for that exactly what you were saying. There is just some invaluable experience that you get working at an agency. I think one of the big things that I experienced is I got to work across so many different industries. And you learn really quickly how to pick up a topic and where how to research a topic and get embedded and learn that topic. You also learn really quickly how to find the right contacts for different topics, different clients, different industries, that there’s that you just can’t get that in house. It’s a different type of experience. So I think there’s a reason that a Lot of in house corporate communications teams are people who have been an agency world you know how to handle different requests coming from different places you know how to pick up a topic really quickly whether you have a background in software or healthcare or you know what have you can pick something up pretty quickly. I will say I will never miss timesheets and billing ever again. That is one thing I do not miss. Never ever ever want to have to bill a client ever again in my life. new business. Hmm. Funny to do that again. But there is a lot of I would not change my experience in agencies. I think it helps me get to where I am now. And I pull on that experience. Probably every day, something that I learned something that I picked up, the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it.

Brad Grantham
A lot of businesses have turnover, and PR agencies are no different to that. I find when dealing with agents He’s that I deal with that, you know, there’s a lot of education that goes on continual education as turnover occurs with agencies. That being said, if you were to, you know, right now say these are the three skills that my agencies or agencies in general, I think need at this moment in time. What would that be like? proactivity, or something along those lines.

Allison Showalter
I would say, above all is good listeners. And when I say listeners, it’s it’s the skill of listening and actually hearing what’s being said, whether that’s by a reporter that’s by your client. That to me is one of the biggest things that you need. As a PR professional, you need to listen, hear what people are saying to you. organization and productivity. I think I’m going to put those together into one, I think are is very important. You’ve got to be proactive. There’s so many PR professionals out there and there’s so few reporters and outlets and they’re in an So if you’re just going to be passive, send one email and call it a day, you’re not going to be successful. And I think I would probably put flexibility and agility up there. Too often I see people working in communications where they’re so boxed in by this is what I said I was going to do, or this is the way we always do things. This is what I said I was gonna pitch whatever that thing is that when something goes wrong or something, like let’s take the share COVID, for example, when that happened, everybody had to adjust. You had to adjust really quickly. If you were in March, still pitching things the same way that you had been in January, you probably came across pretty tone deaf. And I would say for agencies right now, I’m sure there’s probably a lot of agencies out there that are struggling to find creative new ways to do their jobs. I imagine there’s agencies that are still pitching those standard ideas that they did before. COVID before social distancing was important. I mean, I’ve had conversations with different colleagues, you know, who’ve gone on and work different places now about, oh, they want my executive to come in person to something and it just a little tone deaf. So I would say that flexibility, that agility, no matter what the scenario is you’re coming up against, it’s very important. Listen, be proactive, and be flexible.

Chris Shigas
Lots of corporations use agencies for different tactics. And it could be for thought leadership. It could be for, you know, booking speaking engagements, or things like crisis communications, maybe use an agency for writing a user agency for pitching media, use an agency for big ideas, right? I know personally, I don’t need the big ideas. I’m good. I need that staff workload, right of the block and tackle media pitching. What are you looking for in your agencies, and what do you wish an agency person knew? About your needs, now that you’ve been on both sides of the fence.

Allison Showalter
Yeah, that’s a loaded question.

I kinda I kind of look at it. Like the things I wish I knew when I was an agency world. And I think one of the key differentiators from an agency perspective, because not every client is the same. Not every client’s gonna approach them the same. But I do think there are some things that agencies can do, especially if they know their client has agency background, that makes everything more effective. I mean, for me, a lot of what we’re looking for is extra arms and legs. And that’s what a lot of corporate munications teams are looking for. They need those arms and legs to help them do the things that they simply don’t have time to do on their own. Be those extra arms and legs for me, don’t wait necessarily for me to come to you with all of the ideas. It’s so wonderful to me when I have agencies sending me ideas, whether they’re a fit or not, you know, send me sending me ideas. It’s so helpful, and it’s so useful that that productivity and not waiting for it. fully formed chairs a perfectly formed idea that’s been approved all the way up to the top like, here are some ideas. Let’s see what sticks. Here’s five of them. Maybe one works. Maybe none of them work. But we tried. I think that’s something that’s helpful. And I think coming from the agency side, something I wish I knew when I was on the agency side is what’s really valuable on the in house side is I don’t need 100 reports a day. I don’t need necessarily all those PR impressions and things like that. It’s, to me, it’s more about like, how are you moving the needle? How are you getting that, you know, end goal, maybe it’s you might only get one placement. But if it’s a really amazing placement, then that’s better and more valuable to me than 20 maybe small, meaningless placements. Not meaningless. That’s not the right thing to say but smaller placements. So I think having an understanding of the goals and you know, it’s not always just about numbers. It’s not always just about numbers, numbers, numbers. It’s about moving the needle in about making a difference driving some objectives home.

Brad Grantham
So Allison, a lot of agencies have tools at their disposal in their arsenal, so to speak, you know, some of those vary from media tracking services, monitoring services all the way to, you know, reporter contacts, like profit nets and arrow and some other things like that. Is this anything that your agencies use? And, you know, do you want that from your agencies?

Allison Showalter
I would say all of my agencies that I use it, I’m awesome. I like the whole corporate communications team uses it, it’s, they’re great tools. I think the thing with any tool like that is using it appropriately and being transparent, that you’re using it. I have absolutely no problem with a prophet or a hero. But to me, it’s all about being transparent. That’s where this opportunity came from. So it’s all about it’s managing expectations. And I think that’s also something that’s important for agencies to understand about working with your in house. I think the thing is, we have relationships that we’re managing on our end as well and so We need to manage the expectations of our executives. So they continue to make time in their schedule to do things like media interviews. So it’s important for us to know like this opportunity came from a hero or a prophet. So when I go request time on an executives calendar, they know Do I need to move a meeting for this? Is this something that’s worth my time? What are the chances that is actually going to come to fruition in meaningful coverage? So I think that’s one of the things to me is yes, by all means, use profit use herro. I think every PR professionals probably had at least one of those come to a good placement, but just be transparent and realistic when asking or positioning those opportunities to clients.

Brad Grantham
If you could go back in time, 10 years, and give yourself one piece of advice to prep you for where you are now, or to have prepared you for where you are now. What would that be and why and your professional career.

Allison Showalter
That’s a hard one to think about. Because the landscape has changed so much in 10 years. The biggest thing I would put myself is like just continuing some of that education and understanding the value of going I would probably challenge myself to go deeper in the knowledge that I have in certain industries. Going further into that building those relationships with reporters in certain industries. I think that’s one of the things that differentiates some of the older long term PR pros from some of the new newbies will call them the youngins is that you’ve had more opportunities to build those relationships with reporters in a very different landscape. Nowadays, everything’s, it’s so crowded, and it’s so hard to make any of those connections and really build those relationships. And so especially some of the reporters that have been around for longer, I would probably push myself to keep up with a lot more of those relationships than I think I did in the past over 10 years of time, and really understanding that value and the give and take of that relationship.

Chris Shigas
Now you know what’s going on in the kitchen, you know, what’s going on behind the curtain of an agency. So what are you looking for when an agency’s pitching you for your business. How are you evaluating that this is going to be a good fit for Red Hat.

Allison Showalter
I mean, Red Hat is a very open company. It’s about being open and honest, I don’t want a hard sales pitch. I don’t want a bunch of empty promises. I don’t want the big ideas that you know are never going to actually happen the way that they’re presented in a new business

Chris Shigas
deck. How about the case studies that have nothing to do with your business? I really dislike those. It shows that you don’t know what we’re talking about.

Allison Showalter
All I can say is that I would never hire it. A PR agency based off a study. I really just don’t think like, I just can’t imagine a scenario where it’d be down to the wire on like, Oh, I can’t decide between agency a and agency B. And you’d be like, Man, this random case study that’s kind of related but not really that’s what put them over the end. I’m 20 years old. 20 years old. To me, it’s all about. It’s about the, to me, it’s the relationship. It’s the personality fit. It’s the understanding of what we’re asking for is that’s the most important thing

Chris Shigas
is that ability Are you going to be able to work with me and learn from me and take that information and move it to the next level?

Allison Showalter
Exactly. I’m not looking for perfection. And I think myself personally did this in agency world where you’re trying to be so on the ball, you want to appear infallible, like yes, I, you know, I’m, I’m right on top of that rose, a very on top of everything that’s going on, that you know, all of the people, all the players, all the things, and honestly, like, that’s not possible in any job, let alone in the changing, you know, media landscape and everything that’s going on. So, to me, it’s not about having somebody who comes across as perfect, it has somebody it’s somebody who comes across. It’s like, I’m learning Right along with you like, let’s, let’s get in there, let’s get dirty. Let’s see what we can do. You know, it’s throw stuff against the wall, see what sticks. We want, I wanted to you have the chops. If you have the skills to do PR you have the chops to do the job. It’s about your attitude and attacking it. And it’s getting in there and having the same kind of fire I guess, the same wants and desires is not the right word. That sounds creepy, but a desire to do the job. Well, I think that’s the

Chris Shigas
in working with agencies that are in industry excited about our business.

Allison Showalter
Yeah,exactly. It’s wanting to try things and get excited and reading about, you can always tell when somebody’s been reading about the industry, even when it has nothing to do with them. And I think that’s the difference of like, hey, this has nothing to do with what I’m doing for you. But you know, I’m aware that you guys are doing XYZ in this space, throwing you an idea, seeing a placement that before we do that has nothing to do with something that they did. It’s that way I know like you’re in this You’re not just looking at it as a, you know checkbox. I get it. You got to make the new business deck. Yeah, get it, you know, you got to do that. But one of the things that I saw a lot in my agency days that I haven’t experienced it as much in house, but one of the things that I see the importance of now being in house is the team that is pitched the team that I’m building that relationship with in that initial conversation. That has to be my team when we start working together. And I know that I mean, I worked at four different agencies, and I saw it happen, every single one of those agencies where you bring in your star players to land the business. And I would wager and you guys have heard this from clients as well don’t change my team on me. And then you get to day one, and it’s like, oh, here you go. Here are six people you don’t even know like that. I think I see the value of the people that I talk to when we pitched the business when we came on board. Those are the people I work With day to day, they were the people I had that conversation with. They’re the ones who know what I’m looking for. I don’t have to stop, rebuild that relationship with somebody else. And now that doesn’t count into attrition and things like that. But that can’t be helped. But it’s that don’t just bring it don’t have an all star team that you take into pitch business, and then switch it on a client because that is one of the most frustrating things I see now. And again, I’ve been very fortunate. I haven’t experienced that in house. But man did I see that a lot in agency day?

Brad Grantham
It sounds like we’re gonna have to do a whole nother podcast episode about new business decks and new business winning. Things have kind of changed over the past couple of months, I think in those pitches, you all of us. Remember those new business decks, that we would be a part of where you know, back in the day, it’s like, you know, our agency has $200 million in Billings, and, you know, here’s all of our clients in the first three pages and nobody has time for that anymore. I think again, back to your point. Who is the team do we connect and what can you actually help? With, with no BS, just get to

Allison Showalter
your relationships. That’s how I believe, like, show me who you know, in my area, you know, tell me, you know, some of the people, somebody some stuff you’ve placed and it’s not a case study it’s show me that you know this area and it’s not by a case study from 10 years ago or something that’s kind of related. Show me your relationships that you’ve got right now that you know the people that I want to get to.

Chris Shigas
Well, thank you, Allison. I mean, what I heard is, you really want a partner that is all in with you same goals, same objectives willing to learn. And that’s what we’re all about here on PR wars. So thanks for joining us.

Allison Showalter
Thanks for having me.

Chris Shigas
You can tune into a new episode of PR wars every Sunday night at 8pm. And do me a favor. The next time you talk to a client, make sure they feel that their battles are your battles… agree on what succes looks like… and help your client win. Now go get em’!

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2020 by Feedspot.

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