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The three types of PR agency clients with Susan Baier | On Top of PR podcast

By On Top of PR

On Top of PR podcast: Three types of PR agency clients with guest Susan Baier and show host, Jason Mudd, episode graphicLearn which type of PR agency client you are with Susan Baier, president of Audience Audit.



Our episode guest is Susan Baier, president of Audience Audit. Susan has been a marketing strategist and researcher for more than 30 years and specializes in analyzing audiences.



The one with Susan Baier on how figuring out what type of client you are can help you find the right PR agency.



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Five things you’ll learn from this episode:

  1. What are the three types of PR agency clients?

  2. Why doesn’t hiring an agency based on size or spend guarantee it will meet your needs as a client?

  3. When is the best time to initiate the conversation about campaign research?

  4. How can research save you money? 

  5. Why do assumptions not make you dumb?


  • “Agency clients are really different, and it doesn’t have anything to do with how big they are or how much money they have.” — @susanbaier

  • “I think it’s a fallacy to assume that a big client means more money.” — @susanbaier

  • “Everybody thinks they need to have a PhD in statistics to talk about research, and that’s certainly not true, but you do have to have some comfort around it.” — @susanbaier

If you enjoyed the episode, would you please leave us a review?


About Susan Baier:

A marketing strategist and researcher for more than 30 years, Susan is an audience specialist. She crafts custom attitudinal segmentation research for agencies and marketers for B2C, B2B, and higher ed organizations including Gap, AT&T, Jayco, Tufts University, and more.


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Presented by: ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving and promoting online customer reviews.




- [Announcer] Welcome to On Top of PR with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer.


- Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of On Top of PR. I'm your host, Jason Mudd, and I'm joined today with Susan. Susan, welcome to the show. We're glad you're here. Why don't you tell our audience just a little bit about yourself?


- Jason, thanks very much for having me. My name's Susan Baier. I own a research company called Audience Audit, and we help marketers better understand the audiences that they are trying to reach.


- Excellent, excellent, and what's really unique for our audience today is that, typically, you are working with agencies and on behalf of the agencies and their clients, so it kind of feels a little bit like the Wizard of Oz, and you're the wizard behind the curtain, and we're introducing you to a whole new audience and a whole new audience to you as well, so.


- Awesome, well, that's good.


- Yeah, tell us a little bit more about how you typically are working with agencies to the benefit of corporate clients.


- Sure, well, I am a marketing strategist by trade. I've been doing that for about 30 years, both in organizations and in agencies, and I started Audience Audit because smaller agencies, sort of small- to mid-size agencies and marketers, I think are really making decisions based on information that they're told they need to pay attention to, but isn't actually that helpful for marketing. So, my preference, I think most researchers would tell you it's a lot more fun to do research when it gets used, when it's impactful, and in my case, that's more likely to happen when there's an agency in the mix.


- That's good, that's real good. I was having lunch recently with the CEO of Cision Research and he was telling me that wanting competitive advantage is that there's probably 10 PR agencies in North America that have on-staff research or a research department, if you will, so he was really nudging me to say, if that's one way you want to differentiate in the marketplace, your PR agency, you could certainly do that, and I thought, oh, that's interesting, but I'd rather partner with someone like you, obviously, who has that expertise, and then we can just bring you in on behalf of clients as needed, so.


- Yeah, I mean, and unfortunately, after COVID-19, there's probably only gonna be seven that have in-house. I mean, agency's such a, research is such a broad area of expertise. There are so many different kinds of research and it's very difficult for anyone but the largest organizations to really have on staff, everything that they might need for a particular client. It's hard to maintain that.


- Well, just like my, your expertise is research, mine is public relations. Certainly, there are many, many types of public relations versus just one person who's an expert in all areas. It's very diverse as well, so, yeah, you raise a good point. So, how you and I were first introduced, just to give full credit to Agency Management Institute, which you partner with them annually to do research. Why don't you describe that for us?


- So Drew McLellan, who runs Agency Management Institute, and I met, I think, probably 12 years ago and have worked together since then on a variety of initiatives. I've worked with a lot of his agencies that are in AMI, and seven years ago, we collaborated on a research study to sort of understand agency clients and provide that information to agencies that are working on their new business development efforts and their own marketing, and we're now in year seven of that. In fact, our 2020 study just came out of the field, so it's something we've done every year to try to help agency owners understand their clients better. We've done studies on agency employees and understanding them better, and really trying to just give them more to work with when it comes to deciding what they want to do as an agency.


- Perfect, and so, most of our audience is gonna be the client side, so, I'm hoping, through our conversation today, we can kind of flip the script a little bit and provide the value for those listeners that, with the insight and information you have moving forward, so, but quickly, tell me about your 2020 research. So you're currently in the field gathering the data, is that what you're say--


- We just came out of field with it. We're analyzing that data right now.


- Okay, and so what were some of the questions you were asking?


- So this year's study, every year, we focus on something a little different, and this year's study is examining how agency clients across the US, all sizes of clients, all different industries, are sort of thinking about their marketing support and activities in the face of the economic downturn, the recession that we're dealing with right now, how that is affecting them and their in-house activities, and also how it's affecting their decisions with regard to outsourcing work to agencies.


- That's excellent, and I know, from talking to Drew, that originally, you guys were going to market with the question of when do you think the recession is coming, and obviously, that changed very quickly, and so you--


- That changed pretty quickly, yup.


- You had to pivot and probably restart the process that you were already underway with, right?


- Well, luckily, we weren't in field yet. So what we did was make some adjustments to the content of the survey, given the situation we were in, and it's good that we had the opportunity to do that.


- Yeah, absolutely, versus coming back and start analyzing the data and then the bottom drops, right?


- And then which, it's pretty common to get research and be like, oh, I wish we'd asked that, but this would have been a big I wish, I think, so I was glad that the timing worked out, that we could make that adjustment, and we'll have those results ready for agencies in the fall.


- Okay, and is there just any kind of initial, kind of a teaser, without a spoiler kind of what you're finding?


- Not yet, just came out of field. We'll see what it tells us, but I will tell you, I mean, one thing that's common in all of our research together is we're really focusing not on typical sort of demographics of the respondents or the size of their business. We're really exploring how they're thinking about things, the assumptions they're making, the attitudes they have about what's going on around them and in their roles and in their organizations, and this one will be no different.


- Okay, interesting, interesting. Well, it's ironic we're recording this in very late July. It's practically turn the calendar over and it's August kind of thing.


- Hard to believe.


- Yes, but just yesterday, my article dropped that I wrote about last year's survey that you did.


- I saw it.


- Yeah, yeah, and--


- Great.


- And I want to talk to you a little bit about that. So, as you know, when we first connected, we shared that we had kind of put together an infographic, for lack of a better word, kind of helping clients identify, and more candidly, started internally helping us identify what kind of client is Bob or Mary or Steve, right? And so we put it into three different categories, and so, one was called Busy Blair, which is kind of that persona or personality type that they just want to make sure that if they hired us to write one news release a month or, and five social media posts a week, that they're just, they're checking a box, they want to see--


- That that's getting done.


- Yeah, they want to see the inputs, the time and inputs of what we actually did, if you will, or the inputs and outputs, and so that's Trusting Terry. They're very worried about the scope of work and whether or not we did it or not, and then the next one we have is Results Rory, and Results Rory, these names are without a specific gender, but Results Rory is kind of the person who I want to make sure I'm seeing an ROI for my PR investment, whether that is something that they're measuring, like outputs and outcomes, like news coverage or engagement on social media or product sales or product click-throughs or whatever it might be, and then we have, which is really our favorite type of client, is Trusting Terry, who's that client, and honestly, we figured out these personality types from clients, kind of working with them and seeing those personalities, but also them just kind of telling us what matters, right? And so Trusting Terry is kind of our favorite client, who says, look, I know you're gonna do the work we hired you to do, and we know there's gonna be results that come from it. What we really need is a PR agency who understands us, who we trust, who we can turn to when we have an issue and say, hey, Axia, can you come over or can we have a phone call? Can I share something with you that's happening at our company that's very confidential or very strategic or very high-level or very important, right? And we just want you to know, does this, knowing who we are, should we do this, right? Knowing who we are, is this a good message for us to put out there? Is this something we should walk away? Is this a deal or opportunity we should walk away from? And when I had a client who, I like to sit down with our clients every quarter and just kind of say, hey, how are we doing? Where can we be better? And, it's like, 10 years ago where a client just said, look, we don't hire you guys just for your work. We hire you for your counsel, and we also hire you 'cause you're kind of like a advisor slash insurance, right? We come to you and say, like I said, is this a good move or a bad move? So anyway, we have three kind of personalities we identified. We currently work with all three. We see all three, especially different levels in the company, different tenure with the company, different tenures with our agency, and then you've got kind of three personalities or three traits that you identified also, and somewhat more specifically, and correct if I'm wrong, of what they are looking for in an agency.


- That's right, that's right, but the two go together, right? I mean, the type of client and what they're looking for also dictates the type of agency they're going to choose. So it's really closely tied together, and I was impressed when I first read about sort of the segments you have defined because I think, one of the reasons we do this work is because a lot of us have been trained or led to believe that we need to be looking at our business relationships. It could be your agency, or if you're an agency, it could be your client, based on sort of very strict, like how big are you? What is your revenue? What is your title? Those kinds of things, and what we realized, in our first study back in 2014, was that agency clients are really different and it doesn't have anything to do with how big they are or how much money they have. It's really independent of that, and when we redid that study in 2019, the one you're talking about, five years later, we found the same segments still there. We've seen some shifts in terms of size, but it's still true that clients, the people who are listening, who are working with marketers or whatever, have very different interests and different kinds of agencies are gonna be prepared and capable and interested in fulfilling those interests for that particular organization. So I think it's important for people just to recognize that doing things by agency size or spend, or even the other clients they have, isn't necessarily gonna get you as a client, what you want out of an agency.


- Right, right, that's very interesting, and I tell, we have the privilege of working with several companies of different sizes, but I tell people all the time, look, just 'cause somebody works at a big company doesn't mean they're any smarter, more talented, or have the secret sauce that you don't have because even the big brands are still trying, they're still failing, they're still finding new techniques and successes, they're still wasting a lot of money. It's just more money than what the small business might be wasting, but it's still, how do you say, an important percentage to them. No company goes around saying, I wanna blow a million dollars, right? But I found that there are some companies, they can afford to take $5 million, invest it, and see if it works, but there are other companies who could never survive that, or never overcome that.


- Who could never do that. Well, and we've done research into this question of outsourcing, and I think one of the things that it's important to realize is that just because a company is larger, or has a larger revenue level or a larger marketing budget, doesn't necessarily mean they're spending the same proportion of their marketing funds on an agency than a smaller organization will be because, as you said, you mentioned sort of that segment that every agency wants, right? Which is you're providing strategic input, ongoing, you're sort of part of the strategic leadership of that organization, even though you work outside of that organization, but there are agency clients who are really doling out bits and pieces of a very large portfolio of marketing activity to specialist agencies doing this or doing that, and then there are organizations who honestly spend most of their marketing budget in-house because they have very large, very professional groups in-house to do that work and agency is a more sporadic thing when they need something that they can't handle. So I think it's a fallacy to assume that a big client means more money because sometimes that's not the case, depending on sort of the extent to which they want their agency involved in things. It's good for agencies to recognize that and it's good for clients to recognize that, too.


- Yeah, that's a very good point. Going back to what we were talking about earlier about the three different types of profile that you identified, and then we had our three profiles and we noticed there's some similarity between the two.


- There are.


- There's crossover, for sure. Do you think sometimes that's also kind of a, in your research and your experience, is that a mirror reflecting upon them? So if the client is very strategic as an individual who's kind of in that, what we call Trusting Terry mode, right? Is that the same person who, when they're out there looking for an agency, they want an agency who is also strategic or are they thinking, I built a team of people around me who are strategic. Now I need an agency that can go and do it.


- Well, I think our work is specifically around what they want in an agency. So I know that that person who we, we call that segment Looking for Love, right? Looking for a very tight, complementary relationship long-term. I know that's what they want in an agency. That's what they value, and I can't speak to whether they want that in other aspects. They may be lacking that in their organization. We know that a disproportionate percentage of those folks are smaller organizations who maybe don't have the strategic chops and expertise in-house that they can get by hiring an agency. So it could be true. I mean, one of the things I think it's important for people listening to recognize is that when we develop these attitudinal segments that are, that don't have any demographic inputs to them at all, it's just about attitudes that they hold. The resulting segmentation is completely organic. So we don't basically say, we've talked to a bunch of agencies and we think there are three, these three kinds of clients, so let's see what percentage of our respondents fit into each bucket. We don't know what the buckets are gonna be when we do this analysis. We have a barrage of attitudes that we throw at these folks and ask them to provide feedback on, and then that analysis organically bubbles up what those different groups are. What's been interesting to me, and it's reflected in our conversation today, is having seen what we found organically, and with statistical reliability in our research over the years, how many agencies have said, that's what I see in my business. Those are the prospects that I talk to. I recognize all of these kinds of people in our new business development work. So, it's gratifying to see that what we're seeing is very similar to what you're seeing.


- [Announcer] You are listening to On Top of PR with your host, Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest-growing brands. He's the managing partner at Axia Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social, and web strategies for national companies. And now, back to the show.


- Let's talk about research for the listener who is, or part of our audience who is thinking, man, I would love to do some research, and to be very candid with you, that's one of my biggest struggles is we work with clients and maybe they're contacting us, looking for an agency, and we're recommending some research, but they first just want to lock us in. Then once they lock us in, there's no more money left, there's no more conversation or money left for research, and so, we have a client, for example, who, their objective, their company mission, is to improve the public perception of their industry, right? That's something they're working on constantly, and so that's why we're there is to help them do that, and of course, we're doing that and it helps, but I'm always like, look, we really need to get a baseline of what is the public perception of your industry today, and then let's come back annually and see how much we move the needle, and their industry is huge, they're a big player in it, but they're one of many players, and so I keep telling, even if it improves by 1% each year, are you gonna say well done, or is that gonna be where you're like, no, we want to see more like 10%, but the truth is if we don't measure, or if we don't do any research and we don't measure, it doesn't matter whether they want it to be 10 or they want it to be one or they want it to be 12. Unless you set that baseline, you're just not gonna know, so where do you recommend, so let's just say, either for that example or another example, where does the conversation start at a corporate marketing PR department where there is not a research department and there's not a research professional employed in the company?


- Yeah, well, in a perfect world, it starts early. It starts when that client is still a prospect, and the agency is talking to them about what they would recommend doing, and research becomes a part of that, but we often work with clients who have been with an agency for a long time, and now they're getting ready to do a rebranding, or they're thinking about moving in a new direction, or they're gonna redo their website, and they're starting to feel like maybe it might be the time to do some research. I think one of the challenges is that, not only on the client side, but often on the agency side, folks aren't really familiar with research and aren't very comfortable talking about it. Everybody thinks they need to be, have a PhD in statistics to talk about research, and that's certainly not true, but you do have to have some comfort around it if you're gonna be talking to a client about it, or if you, as an organization, want to talk to your agency about what you want done, and sometimes you just don't have that kind of information. So one of the things I would recommend is that every researcher I know is willing to engage in that conversation with an agency and with a client, and provide some suggestions about what kinds of things might be helpful in this situation from a research standpoint. So I would absolutely, if you don't already have good resources, I would absolutely go find some and ask them what they think and get their perspective. I can tell you, as Audience Audit, I mean, we wouldn't have gotten very far if our research used up 85% of the agency budget for a year. That's not a good way to succeed as a consultant to agencies, so I think you need to think about those things and you need to find research that is helpful, but I think we've all had the experience of being burned, right? Where we were in an organization where research was done, spent money on it, never got used. I call it the Dusty Binder Syndrome. And then everybody has a bad taste in their mouth. And they're like, well, that, that was water in a hole, that didn't do anything for us. So research has to be helpful. I'm gonna argue for customer research most of the time, 'cause that's gonna be more likely to get you what you want, and then I think the other conversation that researchers should be having with organizations is not only what research will cost you, but what it will save you. I mean, we see tremendous efficiencies. Once you understand who you're talking to, the kinds of things that are important to them, the kinds of challenges they're having, where they're getting their information about your category, who they're trusting with respect to word-of-mouth, you have the opportunity to get much closer to the bullseye on your marketing and PR efforts, right? Your content is more relevant, so you can end up spending less money on things because it's got a tighter focus. We're getting you closer to that bullseye so that you can really spend your money where you need to be spending it, and research can drive tremendous efficiencies with respect to that.


- I had, one of our very first clients at Axia was an engineering firm, and they hired us because they were just adamant that the perception in the industry is we're small and we need to change that. And so I challenged the challenge, if you will, and I just said, hey, how do we know that? How do we know that's what people perceive? And they said, oh, I just know it from talking to people and being at this company or whatever. And I said, "Well, can we take a month of our PR budget "and focus specifically on doing research "to affirm or deny that finding "before we launch this whole campaign?" And so, they were a little reluctant, didn't think it was necessary, I kind of insisted, and we came back a month later. We did the research our own as amateurs. We came back and there was only one person in the field that said they still thought they were a small, kind of local or regional player versus a bigger player, and so when I came back and reported that to them, that's exactly what I told them was what you just said is that imagine if we would have spent the next 12 months pushing out a message that no one, that everyone already knew--


- Solve a problem that isn't there.


- Yeah, exactly, yeah, and so I told them, I said, "We just saved a lot of money, and a lot of your money," their money, by spending one month, kinda like Abe Lincoln says, if I got six hours to chop down a tree, I'm gonna spend the first four sharpening my ax. Well, that's what we kind of did, and so, it was nice to get--


- Good for you.


- Well, it was helpful because we always have impostor syndrome, right? And so we think that, we think the worst is what other people seem to think of us or whatever you, however you want to define that, and, yeah, to your point and to credit to you, is they saved a lot of money by just spending a little bit of money, putting their toe in the water on some very basic research that came back and said, we don't need to be worried about this, so, what we did as a PR firm is we took that architecture, that firm, that architecture firm's principle, and we set up a one-on-one between the two of them, just to reconnect and talk about business and come to find out, they both kind of started here and they both grew like this, and so then there was synergy between their two companies to do a lot more projects together and work together, and those guys ultimately became friends in business and it's a great story all in all, so yeah.


- That's really, really good, and I think that a lot of people in organizations sort of feel like research may be, if it's testing their assumptions, it may turn out that they're dumb or they're stupid for thinking that or whatever, and I think it's really important for people to recognize that all of us, by virtue of the work we do and the organizations we're in, have assumptions from talking to customers and talking to prospects and whatever, and having those doesn't make you dumb. It just means that we're developing these ideas in a bubble of our own making, and research allows you to get outside that bubble and actually into the shoes of the people who are looking at you as an organization, and how do they feel about it with all of those biases that we sort of bring to our, to the table from my own experience?


- Yeah, yeah, for sure, yeah. Well, Susan, we have run out of time very quickly. I want to extend an offer to you to come back when you have your new findings..


- That'd be great, I'd love to.


- From the current report. I think that'll be very interesting, and just to kind of recap, you just completed go out in the market and asking clients how they're spending money with agencies, and so I think that, obviously, your audience for that report is agencies so they know what's going on in the marketplace, but I all, every time I talk to a client at a high level, they want to know, what are your other clients doing?


- Yeah, I think it's helpful for us to sort of know what's going on in the space that we're in and are we unusual, are we weirdos, are we on the fringe, are we right? Are there other organizations facing this challenge the same way we are, yup, absolutely.


- And to be even more candid, I think it's the CMO saying, do I need to be nagging my CFO for more money or do I need to shut up and be glad that I have what I have today, right?


- That's right.


- Compared to other companies of a similar size or in my industry or whatever it might be, and so I think what they're worried about is, is our competition gonna outspend us or underspend us? Do I need to be grateful or do I need to be the bulldog nagging for more funds and more staff or whatever?


- I think the results are gonna be really fascinating 'cause I think, again, there are a lot of assumptions about what's gonna happen in an economic downturn with respect to marketing spending. And I'm sure you know, from some of your clients and certainly from some of our agency clients, the assumption that all that marketing spend is gonna dry up, it's certainly not true for some folks, so I think it'll be very interesting to see what that landscape looks like, for sure.


- And you're giving me an idea for another podcast, which is to talk about the research that AMI's provided to us and that we've explored ourselves, which shows that companies who actually spend money in a down economic time are the leaders coming out of it, and they're seeing, the more they spend during a downtime, the greater ROI that they're experiencing versus those that go silent, so, while that's a little bit of a self-serving message, since I work for and own an agency, it's certainly, if the facts line up with it, then that's what we want.


- It's supported by data, so it's a really interesting, again, challenging some of those assumptions that marketers may have about what they need to be doing right now. It's a scary time, and I think it's good to look at some of that information as you're making those decisions, for sure.


- Well, sounds like we'll reconnect in a few months.


- Great.


- And look forward to sharing that information with our audience. I'm sure there'll be very interested. Thank you for joining us on the show today, and if there's anything we can do for you, that would be great, and as we close, please tell our audience how they can get ahold of you.


- So the website is AudienceAudit.com. I'm susan@audienceaudit.com. Reach out anytime, I love talking to people about research. It's mostly what I do every day, so, happy to connect with anyone and thanks for having me, Jason, this was fun and I look forward to coming back in the fall.


- My pleasure. What's the best social media channel to connect with you also?


- LinkedIn, probably. LinkedIn or Facebook, I hate Twitter, so.


- All right. All right, great, thanks for a great episode, and we'll talk to you soon.


- My pleasure, thank you, Jason. Have a great day.


- Thank you, be well.


- [Announcer] This has been On Top of PR with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer.

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