FPRA 2010 Annual Conference: Breakout 6C, Agency PR: Counseling the Counselor – Jay Rayburn, APR, CPRC and Peter Hollister, APR, CPRC

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Flawless Consulting / Peter Block – Recommended Book

Crystallizing Public Opinion – Edward Bernays – Recommended Book

Jay provided a background on Counselors Networking and how the organization started in order to meet a need within the FPRA organization for senior level consulting.  The skills in this session can be used in many areas – government, agencies, education, and more. 

Bernays brought to the pr profession what we need to do – get people to think and behave in a consulting way.
“There is probably no single profession which, within 10 years, has extended its field of usefulness more remarkably, and touched upon intimate and important aspects of everyday life in the world more significantly, than the profession of public relations counsel.  Bernays / 1923

Bernays coined the phrase public relations professional and said you should be licensed to be a professional – more than just writing media releases. 

Why Hire a Consultant?
A consultant provides an independent and unbiased judgment of a situation, a project, an issue that sometimes cannot provide because it is too close to the situation.  A consultant presents new ideas and a fresh approach and can diagnose a problem and evaluate a solution.  A consultant can also bring in specialized skills that perhaps a client cannot afford or isn’t aware the specialized skills exist.  A consultant can also implement new procedures or train staff. 

Becoming an Effective Consultant
As a practitioner, you need to have high standards, the trust of your clients, positive thinking, be self-motivated, a team player, flexible and energetic. The practitioner should “fit” the client and the consulting job. 

Skills for the Consultant
A consultant or the consulting team needs technical skills, good speaking and writing skills, consulting skills related to research, decision making and feedback, and most of all, good listening skills.  

Goals of the Consultant
When determining if a client would be a good fit, the consultant should make sure to establish a collaborative relationship, be able to solve problems and make sure the problems stay solved, and work on both the business problem and the relationships with the client, the staff and others, as needed.

Internal Consultants

  • Advantages: Knowledge of the organization / Availability / Part of the Team / Less Costly – It may be cheaper to bring consultants in on a piecemeal basis, if you don’t need a major pr staff
  • Disadvantages – Not an expert / Too close to the problem / Overhead / Benefits / Yes” Person – Sometimes they are too close to the problem to know how to fix it – Too close to the forest for the trees / This could be the stupidest idea in the world and yet, the staff says “yes” to everything the boss says.

External Consultants

  • Advantages:  Location / Objectivity / Breadth of skills and experiences / Variety of skills
  • Disadvantages:  Staff paranoia / Cost / Resistance to advice / Lack of Knowledge about the business

Fees
One of the guest speakers at conference charges $750 per hour.  Other pr firms, such as Ketcham, Ogilvy and Mather, etc. are even more expensive.

Roles The Consultant Must Play
In each scenario with the client, the consultant must be an expert in order to provide advice and counsel as the issues are reviewed, a facilitator to get the project completed, a collaborator for an equal partnership with staff and others and an extension of management. 

The consultant should be all four of these roles and must be able to drop into different roles as you work with the client.  You are often bouncing back and forth within these roles.  Every client does not bring you in to be an expert, but in some ways to deal with facilitation and collaboration. 

Tasks Performed by Consultants
Tasks will vary for a consultant, according to the project, and the consultant needs to have all types of skills available in order to meet the needs of the client and the project.  For example, you may need to be a researcher to get background information or find out if another company is doing the same project.  You may need to be an educator to train staff, as needed, or a strategist, a communicator, a counselor and even a cheerleader. 

The Five Phases of Consulting
A consultant needs to be able to gain an understanding of the problem, define it and determine if the consultant should accept the project.  Then, there must be issues planning, action planning, data collection of all sorts, diagnosing the problem and reaching an agreement,

Elements of a Contract
As the practitioner, you and the client should be on the same page, with the boundaries spelled out, objectives of the program, open communications as to what you need and what they are expecting, time schedule, confidentiality and feedback. 

Put it in Writing
You do not need a multi-page contract to work with someone.  You can decide on much of it ahead of time and spell it out in contract form, or even as a series of emails to agree who is doing what, what the client is looking for, etc. 

Contracting Skills
When meeting with a client, as the contractor, you should be able to ask direct questions in order to know who is part of the project and who maybe less visible parties, determine the client’s expectations, state what you need from the client, and agree on what you will be giving the client. 

One of the most important stages is determining if the project has at least a 50-50 chance of success and be able to say “no” to the client if that cannot happen. 

Another area of concern is resistance from the client.  As a practitioner, you should be able to east the client’s concerns about you taking over and removing the client from the picture and be able to talk with the client directly at various stages of the project to provide a status report and also to assure the client of the projects status. 

Reviewing the Contracting Meeting
When meeting with the client, try to find the balance between what you need and what the client is looking for, determine any resistance from the client, and determine your concerns about the client and the overall project.  Try to fix any “negative” chemistry that may have resulted from discussions or even throughout the time of the project.  You must determine if the contract is a GO or do some aspects of the project, agreement and other areas need to be reviewed. 

As much as possible, TALK to the eventual clients.  Don’t do everything via email.  SKPE was suggested for distance clients.  Anything that is negative should be dealt with by voice meeting

Data Collection Steps

  • Defining the initial problem – After you learn the problem or issue, your next step is to research – either formal or informal – before you accept or reject the contract.  At other times, if you see there truly is NOT a problem or a need for a contract, advise the client otherwise.
  • Decision to proceed with the project
  • Select the dimensions to be studied
  • Decide who will be involved in the project
  • Select the data collection methods
  • Data collection
  • Data Analysis and Summary Feedback of results
  • Recommendations
  • Decisions on action options
  • Deciding who is involved in implementation
  • Decisions on evaluation / periodic assessment

Five Most Common Ways to Collect Data
The client should make staff available for interviews and background, perhaps clients could be added into this group.  A questionnaire will provide larger numbers of people and more of a consensus on a project. 

As the consultant, you or a staff member should be attending meetings in order to observe the process and determine the creative development.  You must analyze documents, review materials, websites, publications and other related information.  Also trust you intuition on a project.  

Gaining Feedback
Present your diagnosis / Make Recommendations / Decision to proceed / Test for client concerns / Decisions on proceeding with the project / Discuss with client if you have everything to proceed / Clear Understanding of role in order to implement the project / Give support

You want to succeed with the project, so you need to go into the meeting with the final information to accept the agreement with the client.  As a consultant, you want to assure co-ownership of the project and also making sure the practitioner and the client are on the same page. 

Implementation

Useful tools  . . . .
This is the tactics phase of the project using strategic skills and thinking in order to determine the problem, target audiences, send messages, work from goals and objectives, know mission statements and available resources from the client. 

The Diffusion Process
Awareness, Information sharing, Evaluation, Trial, Adoption

Those five phases of the decision making process must be reviewed. 

Play the right role at the right time / Trust intuition / Pay attention to the parameters of the contract / Do it and Get it Done

Extension
Sit with the client to determine if this project has come to an end or needs to be revised or additional phases added.  

Resistance
Control / Vulnerability and Change of the unknown are problems in consulting process / Be able to determine resistance, know that it is a natural process. Do not take rejection personally.  There are many phases of resistance in dealing with the client, including the ultimate phase that the client decides NOT to do the project.

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