This week, Chip and Gini explore how to handle clients who want around-the-clock social media management or other services that require major staff commitments — and would prove to be quite expensive to offer.

As is often the case, this question originated in the Spin Sucks Community, where an agency leader said he had stopped providing social media management services:

We used to offer it a few years ago but continued to run into expectations issues with clients. Mostly our clients wanted our team to be 24/7 on and often they would not approve our content fast enough … To give the clients what they needed / wanted, we would have had to charge more than they were willing to pay so we stopped offering it to avoid losing clients.

This is a challenge that many agencies face — especially in a 24/7 media environment.

Chip and Gini discuss strategies for handling these situations, and also explore other lessons that come from requests like these.

The co-hosts also give a shoutout to Shel Holtz who will be recording the 1000th episode of the For Immediate Release podcast next Monday.

Transcript

CHIP:
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin

GINI:
and I am Gini Dietrich

CHIP:
and we’ve got a great episode ahead of us today. But first I wanted to give a shoutout to the founder of the FIR Podcast Network who is getting ready to record the 1,000th episode of FIR.

GINI:
1000! Crazy! 1000.

CHIP:
and here we are on episode 18

GINI:
We’ll be there someday. Someday, someday.

CHIP:
Yeah, now in fairness, Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson did have an advantage in the early days, if you can call it that, in that they recorded twice a week. So you know, they were able to squeeze in 100 episodes a year as opposed to us doing it weekly, where we do 52.

GINI:
And I just looked, Inside PR is 534 and I think it started in 2006. So yeah, so he’s doubled it. That’s crazy.

CHIP:
That is, it is absolutely insane but it is a great listen, continues to be and the network that he’s put together and that the show is part of, I think is really fabulous for the communications community.

GINI:
Totally agree. Congratulations, Shel, that’s great.

CHIP:
Absolutely congratulations, Shel. And another milestone this week – I don’t think it was number 1000, but I believe that you may have had a birthday.

GINI:
It was definitely not 1000!

CHIP:
definitely

Probably even less than 534.

GINI:
It is less than 534 as well.

CHIP:
But I suspect higher than eighteen. This is episode number whatever of Gini Dietrich’s life.

GINI:
Of my life. Thank you. Thank you.

CHIP:
So happy birthday. We will we will not sing it, or I will not sing it for two reasons. One is I am not good at singing. And secondly, we don’t want to pay the royalties to use that song, which really boggles my mind, that you can’t sing happy birthday in a commercial setting, without paying a royalty. You know, it is what it is. So…

and

and so I guess with that, we will, we will jump into the more meaningful topics of the week, or at least for those people listening to this podcast who are maybe less interested in birthdays, anniversaries of shows and things like that.

So in any event, let’s jump in. And we’re going to talk about how to basically take client projects and make them of a manageable scale. And it’s based on a particular question that came up in the Spin Sucks community as so many of these shows do. It’s a great place to be. So if you’re not part of it, I encourage you to reach out to Gini and and join. But Gini, why don’t you tell us about this particular question and then we’ll share a few thoughts on it.

GINI:
Yeah, I thought it was pretty interesting. So he asked, you know, when it comes to social media, we’ve taken the safe approach and offered to our clients, consulting, ideation, content, audits, etc. But no actual management. He said, we used to offer it a few years ago, but continue to run into expectation issues with clients – I can’t imagine –

mostly because our clients wanted our team to be 24/7 on and often they wouldn’t approve content fast enough or send us imagery requested to make it relevant, interesting, all the kind of stuff

and

and to give them what they wanted and needed especially for that 24/7 being on, holidays and all that, weekends and nights, we would have to charge more than they’re willing to pay. So we stopped offering it to avoid losing clients over lower profitability, blah, blah, blah. But he says, you know, over the during the last few months, we’ve had most of our most of our new prospective clients ask for it. And when we explain why we don’t do it, it concerned them. And so he’s wondering, you know, do you offer social media community management? And if so, do you suggest we reconsider this? It’s a really interesting conversation because he’s right, you know, clients do expect your team to be on 24/7, but they’re not willing to pay the 24/7 rate. So it’s an interesting conundrum I think we all have to face.

CHIP:
It’s a huge issue and it is, it is something that that folks face whether it’s in social media management or all sorts of other things that we do as communications agencies and, and trying to meet those expectations you know, often makes the difference between a successful engagement in a profitable agency and one that is neither.

GINI:
Right, right.

CHIP:
And you know, and I think the question actually opens up all sorts of different avenues so we probably won’t be able to touch on everything that it opens up in the next 20 minutes but you know hopefully we can at least you know hit some of the the broad brushstrokes and you know I guess the place to start is you know how do you how do you deal with it when a client or prospect comes to you with essentially what is a wish list right, which is I would like you to be working for me 24/7, on demand whenever I kind of feel like it, and you’ll just be ready and and your team will jump in, you know. How do you, how do you work with them to set the right expectations? Or how do you give them an alternative solution? You know, so I think that’s sort of the place to start because that’s where most people get thrown immediately, which is there’s no way I can support a 24/7 operation.

GINI:
Well, and not only that, but I think there are situations where you can and it’s called crisis communications, right, but you bill at a premium rate, and it’s usually by the hour and it’s usually really expensive, and it’s because you’re in a crisis that you have to do those things.

CHIP:
And it is usually short term just for the duration of the crisis, right? I mean, most most agencies are not out there selling 24/7/365, they’re selling, as certainly I’ve done a number of times with my various businesses over the years, 24/7 but for you know, 3, 6, 7, 30 days whatever, you know, whatever the particular crisis may be. And usually the 24/7 is only for the first few days, and then you back off. You still, it’s more intensive, you know, and it obviously depends on what the individual crisis is. Some where it has been 24/7 for months on end. That’s not the norm. But you know, if it’s there, it is what it is, but you just have to bill the client for it.

GINI:
Mm hmm. So there are situations like that. But I think what we’re talking about here is, you know, it’s certainly, especially for consumer businesses. I think it is important for 24/7 social media management. And if you’re going to outsource, have that outsource, then you have to recognize that not only does the agency have to set it up so that their team can react but it would be the same thing as if the client hired it internally. I mean, maybe you have shifts and you have people working shifts, so you’re having to, instead of one person handling it, you have three people handling it and they have three shifts. So it’s going to cost you an amount of money. But I don’t think that unless there is a crisis, social media truly needs to be handled 24/7. Now maybe there’s a rule that we say, yeah, we’re happy to handle this for you. But we only answer between eight and five, we don’t do nights and weekends, unless there’s something, you know, unless we’re, we’re in a crisis or there’s something that’s firing up or something like that, then and, and certainly we’ll monitor it, but we’re not going to actually engage and respond and do all those things except during business hours. So I think there are ways that you could definitely set expectations, but I don’t think especially in 2019 that you have to be on the computer every single second of every single day to see what’s happening on social. Not even for the Cokes of the world, I don’t think you have to be.

CHIP:
Right. No, I mean, I would agree with that. And I think you know, one of the things that we’ve seen over the last you know, 10-15 years is that you know, these incidents where you have social media blow-ups, and people say oh this is the death of Brand X, right, because of, you know whatever it is, whether it was gosh back in the day Motrin moms – remember that? – Motrin was going under because of a little firestorm over the weekend that at the time felt big, I’m sure to Motrin, but you know my guess is most listeners here probably don’t even know what the heck I’m talking about. So you know that shows you what the long term impact of it was. You know part of it is setting expectations, but I think part of it is you know when you’re an agency and you’re working with a client or prospect, you know, if they come to you and say hey, we need 24/7, say you know, okay well you know, this is what it would take for us to achieve that. You know, here’s what we would suggest instead and, you know, give them give them an alternative option I’m I’m a big believer that you know, when you’re working with clients or prospects you try not to say hard no. And and instead you try to redirect them towards, Well, here’s an option that you may like better. And particularly in something like that with a 24/7 operation, you know, the client has to understand that they would need to have someone available to the agency 24/7 as well, right. Because, you know, as was pointed out in the original question, you know, there needs to be someone to approve things and make decisions. And so if they’re not going to staff for it, then it doesn’t make sense for you as the agency to because all that that means is the client is overpaying because if they don’t have the infrastructure on their own, and they handle whatever is coming from the agency, you know, what’s the point?

GINI:
Right, right. And that’s a really good point too, that there has, I think there has to be a certain amount of autonomy on the agency side, because you can’t from a social media perspective, you can’t sit around and wait for content to be approved and imagery to be sent and all those kinds of things. So those are those are things you have to consider as well, if it’s you know, and I have some background knowledge on this particular agency owner and I know that they focus mostly on fitness centers and you know, so if, if it’s something that’s local, yeah, sure, we’re happy to do that. We have a photographer on staff who can come out once a week to take photos and make sure that we have the right imagery and all of that. And here’s how much it costs. If you want to provide that, that’s great. But here’s what we expect. We have to have imagery for the following week by Wednesday, like you have to set those kinds of expectations so that they understand that this is what goes into it, and this is what goes into what you’re asking us to do.

CHIP:
Right. Right.

Right. Right. And I think it’s also important that on the agency side, you know, if you’re, if you’re looking at something that is that intensive, did you take a realistic look at what it would take from a staffing perspective. You’d mentioned earlier, you know, running shifts, but it’s, you know, one of the mistakes that I’ve seen, in fact, last year, at one point I was working with someone who was putting together a proposal for a 24/7 monitoring operation for an organization and they they said, Okay, yeah, right. We need we need three shifts, but they didn’t factor in that there are seven days a week. And you’re not going to have three people who are going to work seven days a week, right? So, so it actually takes more than three people. Yes. Right. You know, realistically to cover 21 shifts, you know, you’re talking at least four, probably five, maybe even six, depending on how you break it up. So the number of bodies that you’re going to require is actually fairly substantial. And so you want to think that through and even if you’re only doing it on an all on-call basis, you know, that that still is something that you need to factor in, you know, if you’re if you go to them and say, Look, you know, we’ll do 24/7, but only in a crisis well, then you need to, you know, since crises, sort of by their very nature don’t tend to send you an email a week in advance and say, Hey, I need to schedule for this, right?

right.

GINI:
We’re gonna have a crisis next week, so just heads up…

CHIP:
right?

Right, so that means fundamentally as an agency you need to have pre-identified if if our clients have a crisis on this weekend here’s what my coverage plan is. And back when I did a lot of crisis coverage for clients we always had that. And so we always knew, you know, who had who had this Saturday and this Sunday if if something cropped up and most of the time they weren’t necessary. But you knew who they were going to be so that you had that option in place and you weren’t caught flat-footed when you get the call at 4pm on Friday, you know, hey, this this horrible thing just happened. We need your help.

GINI:
Or in my experience at 7am on Thanksgiving. Oh, okay. Thank you.

CHIP:
Right right. I mean you never know. And you know, I’ve also overseen a lot of tech teams and so obviously that’s something from a tech team perspective you always have to to work on as well because servers are are sort of like crises – they don’t, they don’t phone ahead to let you know when they’re going to have an issue. And and you know, sort of sort of like my furnace in my house. It always seems to go bad on holidays.

I

GINI:
Or when it’s nine degrees outside. It can’t go bad when it’s 50.c

CHIP:
Yeah. But I cannot tell you how many Thanksgivings and Christmases we have had the HVAC people at our house over the last 20 years. It’s kind of spooky how that seems to play out. Actually a few years ago we had a we had the HVAC people up, we had a power outage on Thanksgiving. So that sort of, we cancelled Thanksgiving, needless to say.

yeah,

GINI:
Yeah, I mean, you have to, because you can’t cook. So yeah, you would have to.

CHIP:
Well, we could because, you know, we, you know, we could have cooked on our grill or something like that, although it was an ice storm. So that’s not really too convenient. No, not not super convenient. But the bigger issue is that since I live in rural America, we have well water and so if you lose power you don’t have running water. That is a problem, that is a problem, that is less than ideal. Yeah, yeah. So yeah,

GINI:
Yeah,

CHIP:
yeah. So

GINI:
yeah,

I think it does. I mean, it’s, it’s definitely, I totally 100% agree with you that you never want to just outright say no, but there is an opportunity for you to say, Okay, if that’s, I mean, we can do that, yes, here’s what it’ll take, here’s what it will cost. Here are some options and here are our recommendations.

CHIP:
Right. And I think the the key to all of it is, and this is advice that I give folks on every aspect of agency operations, take a step back and ask, what are we really trying to accomplish? Right, and that’s, that’s good for your internal operations. But it’s good for working with clients as well. Because, you know, too often when we’re talking with clients and prospects, you know, we hear them say, Oh, I want this, this and this. And so, you immediately start working on, you know, what would it cost to give them this, this and this, but it’s really, the key is to understand why they want those things, what are they trying to accomplish, and then say, look, you know, I, I know this is what you’re trying to accomplish, I’ve got it I’ve got a way you can do that, you’ll get 90% of the benefit for 50% of the cost or whatever. And so then, you know, not only can you put together something that’s manageable for you to execute on but you know, you can look like a hero to the client by reducing their overall bill. Right, because it’s it we really need to be careful that we don’t just become order takers from our clients. That’s, that’s not a pleasant place to be in the long run but it’s also not, it’s not where we maximize our value and therefore maximize our profitability, which we care about.

GINI:
Our job is to maximize our profitability while we take care of clients because if you don’t you’re not in business and clients don’t want you to go out of business. So there’s there’s that piece of it too, but I do think exactly to your point. Don’t be an order taker, be able to step back and say okay Hang on a second. We actually stopped doing social media management or whatever happens to be because of X, Y and Z. We would love to be able to do it for you but here’s what it’s going to take. And you know I think that does build a level of trust while you make them look like a hero, because you have saved them, but it builds a level of trust that then it becomes a partner – a true partnership versus a vendor relationship.

CHIP:
Right.

Right. And I think, you know, too often we are not honest enough with our clients, right? You know, we don’t, we don’t take the time to explain to them, you know why it is that, that we want to do something or don’t want to do something. And, you know, frankly, it can be a useful educational process for the client to sit down with them and say, Okay, look, you know, what you’re asking for, in this particular case, this is this is what it would require from a manpower perspective. You know, this is what it would require from other resources, you know, here’s why we think that that’s, you know, probably not the best solution in this particular case and and a lot of times frankly, they won’t think about those things, right? Because in their minds, I want 24/7 monitoring. Do they think about the fact that that means, you know five or six bodies? No, absolutely no,t that’s just, that’s not – they’re thinking about the outcome they’re not thinking about all of the behind the scenes stuff it takes to get there, so don’t be afraid to explain it.

GINI:
And they’re not really thinking I need 24/7 monitoring, they’re thinking I need people to be paying attention so that if something happens or somebody has something negative to say, we’re responding in a, in an appropriate amount of time. They’re not saying, in their minds, they’re not thinking, Oh, well, somebody’s got to be on Twitter at, you know, 2 am. That’s not what they think at all. But that’s how they’re, that’s how they’re communicating it is, I just need somebody to be available and responding, and it doesn’t take two days for response, it takes an hour or if it’s not during business hours, we’re clear that you know – so that’s what they’re thinking. It’s that, versus I expect somebody to be sitting up all night watching my Twitter feed.

CHIP:
right.

Right. Well, and a lot of times, you know, these sorts of requests come about because of some particular incident that either has taken place already for that organization or elsewhere in the industry or something their boss heard about and said, Don’t ever let this happen to us. Right. So, you know, working with them to understand you know, why are they asking for it, you know, will often you know, help you realize oh, look, really what they’re looking for is just to make sure that they don’t get caught flat-footed, right? And, you know, they, you know, it’s sort of like, you know, back when I ran a media monitoring company, you know, one of the things that we often did with clients was we would set up particular monitors for the CEO’s name, right? So that the CEO never heard about news coverage from anyone other than the people designated to monitor it, right? You wanted them to be the first ones on it. And, you know, so those are the kinds of things that you know, oftentimes people are are thinking internally, but that may not be how they verbalize it to the agency. And so, you know, getting to the root of what they’re trying to accomplish will, you know, often be incredibly helpful and, frankly, strengthen the relationship as well. And so much of what we do as agency owners is having that kind of strong relationship with our clients because that’s, that’s what keeps us going.

GINI:
Yup, it’s chemistry, it’s relationships, it’s trust.

CHIP:
Absolutely. And, you know, I think the other interesting thing that comes out of this this question was, you know, where the original question talked about how they’ve, they’ve been asked several times recently about this, right. So they’re… and I think that’s smart, right? You know, if you start hearing from the marketplace on a regular basis, something that maybe you haven’t heard for a few years, or haven’t heard at all, you know, that’s new, you know, you start to pay attention to those trends and say, Okay, how do I, as an agency respond to that? And, you know, oftentimes it’s, it’s easy as just say, No, we don’t do that. In this particular case it’s something they used to do. So, you know, it’s an easy one to start figuring out, okay, do we dip our toe back in the water in some fashion, but if it’s something you don’t do well do you find a partner who can? You know, you know, how do you address that? Because if you’re starting to hear it consistently in the marketplace, then you want to make sure that you’re adapting and not just saying, Well, you know, that’s – we’ve never done that we’re not going to do that. It doesn’t mean you should do everything that you’re asked, right? I’m not, I want to be very careful to say that I’m not saying just say yes to everything that comes across your desk. But at the same time if you’re hearing something consistently do try to find a way to solve that problem. Even if it’s just by referral, yeah, you may generate some goodwill with the client or prospect, if you can point them in the right direction.

GINI:
Even, I mean, some of the conversation that we had in the Spin Sucks community was, you know, Here are several people who actually do offer it. So maybe there’s a partnership there. And, you know, you can start to build an outsourced team from that perspective too. But to your point, I think it’s really important to pay attention to what the trends are doing, we are seeing a lot, a lot, a lot of retainers go away, and clients are just doing project work now, and they may keep agencies on for years, but they’re just doing projects versus retainers. So it’s significantly more challenging to predict cash flow. So when you have a client or a prospect come to you and say, you know, we’d really like you to do this and we’ll keep you on retainer. Go for it because that’s not happening a lot right now.

CHIP:
Right. No, I would I would agree. I’ve certainly seen a lot of the same thing and you know, of course the the challenge too with project work is, you know, for most agencies, project work is not as profitable as retainer work right. So it also requires, you know, you if you continue to see that on that same trend in your own agency, you know, how do you how does that make you rethink how you price things or how do you, you know, rethink your cost structure in order to address that because it is, it is a very different animal – project income versus retainer income – and not just from a cash flow perspective, it’s the profitability of it that can be you know, wildly different as well if you’re not careful.

GINI:
Yeah, yeah.

CHIP:
And you know, if you’re doing the project for the same client, okay, that, you know that that’s not quite as bad because you start to learn that client, right. But you know, so much for an agency is is learning the client for the first time and so if you’re just doing a lot of one-off projects for clients, then you’re investing a ton of time just trying to figure them out and it’s it’s hard to charge them for that.

GINI:
It is hard to charge them for that.

CHIP:
Yeah, you know, it’s hard to say, look, I, you know, I really don’t know anything about your industry, you know, I’m gonna have to factor in that it’s going to cost me, you know, several thousand dollars worth of staff time just to figure out what your industry is. Most clients are going to respond to well. You still need to find a way to recoup that cost, right? You just you just can’t be really overt about it. You know, if you want to win the business at least.

GINI:
Well, it is interesting and I wish our friend well because it’s a – it’s a great problem to have. Still a problem.

CHIP:
It is. You know, look, it’s always helpful when when prospects are coming to you and asking you for services. So it’s hard to complain from that perspective. But making sure that you figure out you know, how to navigate those and make sure that you’re not digging yourself a hole by agreeing to do something that, that you can’t do well or profitably and trying to figure out how to turn it into something that, that will make both parties happy, I think is really the key.

GINI:
Totally agree.

CHIP:
So with that, Gini, that brings us to the end of a another episode of the Agency Leadership podcast. And so that means I’m Chip Griffin.

GINI:
and I am Gini Dietrich

CHIP:
and it depends.

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