Stay the course when your plan is working

The Whittington Group has been on a roll. We've been growing our client roster quickly and winning just about every time we've competed for a piece of new business. And our existing clients are staying with us after their initial engagements.

Then it happened. We got the word the other day that after our initial meeting with a prospective client we would not be invited to submit a proposal. When we asked why we missed the cut, the reason given was that the client wanted to retain a firm that does public relations and ONLY public relations. They specifically wanted a firm that only does media relations, which is often regarded as the core of PR.

As we always describe our firm, we had explained to this prospect that we are not strictly a PR firm but that we are a strategic communications firm. The way we see it, PR is a big part of what we do but it's only one area in which we work. Our communications tool box also includes brand strategies, public affairs, internal communications, social media, crisis communications, civic engagement, marketing communications and other closely related services.

We refer to these integrated capabilities as strategic communications. Some clients want several of these services but some want only one or two. 

The unexpectedly sudden rejection we received precisely because we are not limited to public relations made me stop and think. Were we mistaken to position our firm more broadly than just PR? Should we rethink our approach in light of potentially substantial client telling us our range of services was too broad? 

No, and no. Our failure to win one piece of business absolutely did not invalidate the numerous other new clients we have added based on our strategic communications (not just PR) business model. And I hold fast to the belief that our broad swath of experience enhances our perspective and skill in each area of our work. One informs the other, and so on. 

For example, because we work in public affairs and public policy, we are better able to work in media relations with reporters who have an interest in these issues. And on the flip side of that coin, our knowledge of the media landscape helps us provide useful guidance to our colleagues who work solely in the legislative arena and need to know how certain issues have been covered in the press. If all we did was media relations, our lack of other skills would make us less effective in PR.

This whole process – from rejection to introspection to confirmation – comes down to a simple principal for any business: Once you've worked out your own business and brand strategies, don't abandon them easily. 

Yes, we all need to be ready to adjust to changing market conditions. And we should make a point to learn from our wins as well as our losses. But we also must be prepared to stay the course when our strategies are proving to be effective most of the time.

- Eric Whittington