As part of its monthly Industry Outlook series, Nevada Business Journal gathered with marketing professionals to discuss the issues their organizations face in today’s changing marketplace. They confronted concerns such as the evolution of media channels, recruiting new talent, the changing role of the PR/advertising agency, and client loyalty. Connie Brennan, publisher of the Nevada Business Journal, served as moderator for the roundtable discussion, which was held at the Renaissance Las Vegas hotel. Following is a condensed version of their discussion, beginning with introductions.
Sydney Knott: The PR Group is a business-to-business public relations firm. I’ve been in the public relations business for over 25 years, and I have had my own firm for 11. The most difficult challenge we’re facing today is keeping up with technology; we are playing catch-up every day.
D.J. Allen: Imagine Marketing is a six-year-old advertising, public relations and strategic planning firm. We’re a 10-person boutique agency assisting clients with external and internal communications. Our challenge is finding qualified employees who have the same values as we do.
John Kindred: I’m a partner at Vanguard Media Group. We have offices in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Boise, Ida. and Portland, Ore. Vanguard Media is a marketing and communications firm that develops ideas and marketing concepts. We’re paid for producing ideas that help clients get the results they want.
Terry Shonkwiler: The biggest challenge for my company, Shonkwiler & Partners, is determining how to reach an audience. In the age of TiVo, iPods and the Internet, it’s difficult to reach the audience you want for your clients. Newspaper readership is way down from what it used to be. When I first came to [Las Vegas], you could put an ad in the newspaper and reach everybody in the Valley, but young people today don’t read the newspaper. We also have an extremely diverse population now, composed of many different ethnic groups, and it’s difficult to know how to reach them.
Holly Lobelson: I’m president and founder of impress communications, a public relations firm that specializes in corporate clients. Our challenge is finding qualified people with talent who can do a good job for our client base.
Shari Sutton: I’m with Sutton Watkins Advertising and Design. We provide both business-to-business and business-to-consumer services. The challenge we face is constantly reinventing ourselves as an agency. We started as a design firm, did media buying and turned into a marketing firm. We are still a full-service advertising agency, but we’re now doing a lot more marketing. Our clients are looking for more out of the agency than just great design.
Paula Yakubik: MassMedia is a public relations, advertising, design and marketing firm with offices in Las Vegas, Reno and Phoenix. We started out focused on the real estate industry, but we recently decided we need to start diversifying and seeking out other types of clients.
Sherri O’Boyle: I’m managing partner of BOS Marketing Group. We are primarily real estate development consultants who put teams together for our clients to help them get their projects out of the ground.
Mary Ann Mele: I am an owner, president and chief strategic officer at R&R Partners. Recruiting talent is an ongoing challenge for us, especially out-of-state. We have to figure out how to compete on the national stage.
Melissa Warren: I am one of three partners of Faiss Foley Warren Public Relations. We are a full-service PR and government affairs firm. Our biggest challenge is keeping up with information. With the growth of the Internet, specialized publications and other opportunities being developed every day, some of them might make sense for our clients, but we might not be aware of them because we just don’t have the time to find out about all the possibilities.
Brad Burch: Burch Design Group has been doing advertising in Las Vegas for almost 30 years. All of us expressed similar feelings about the world changing and keeping up with technology within our industry. I find it a challenge just to keep abreast of everything going on, so I can act as a resource for my clients to help them through this changing environment.
Tim Quillin: I run Q Advertising and PR. We’re a small boutique firm that has been in business for three years. Our challenge is trying to stay small and grow at a measured pace, while finding a qualified staff to help us expand.
Media: A Changing World
Connie Brennan: How do you stay on top of the changes in media channels: print, radio, television and the Internet?
Shonkwiler: It has really been difficult. We utilize a strategy in which we use certain media to attract other media. For example, if you have a quirky billboard campaign or some kind of interesting promotion, it might be picked up by television or newspapers looking for offbeat news items. The old traditional ways of advertising and marketing don’t work anymore. We have to look at how we get our message across, and it’s changing all the time.
Brennan: How does a media buyer in your firm decide where to advertise?
Shonkwiler: Some of it is based strictly on budget. If you have a client with a large advertising budget, it’s much easier. And sometimes you’re boxed in by what the client thinks he should be doing. For instance, car dealers think they need to be in the local newspaper. That’s not really necessary anymore, but it’s hard to get clients to change that mindset. We try to come at it from a different angle if we can, maybe animated e-mails that attract the attention of people in select markets.
Brennan: The daily papers have been losing readership. Does anybody expect that to continue?
Knott: It comes back to the issue of who’s reading the paper? I have clients who demand a story in the newspaper, but don’t subscribe to the paper themselves. They go online and look at the article. Trade publications that have been good for my business are getting thinner, and commercial property news is a fraction of what it used to be. E-mail blasts seem to be getting the most attention right now, but that will probably go away as people get overwhelmed with them. I’ve been asking clients and business contacts, “How do you get your information? What do you read?” It’s extremely challenging.
Quillin: The media is interested in their own self-preservation. They see the future is in making sure you’re covering all the bases and all the outlets. For example, CBS recently signed a deal with Yahoo to carry an online version of 60 Minutes. Internet viewers will be able to see an extended version of certain stories.
Kindred: People who read a newspaper are now reading it online. There’s an opportunity for technology to continue to advance, integrate and develop opportunities to make messages for people. We’re responding to what they want. If it’s online, we should be developing options for them to read content online. It’s the future of marketing.
Allen: This is a battle that’s just beginning. It’s an evolution for the industry. We have to be creative with our messages, because they can make a not-so-good channel a little bit better. We have to remain focused on measurement and help our clients understand the return on investment.
Yakubik: We have to integrate. When we do an event for a client, we do a printed invitation, an e-blast on their Web site, a press release, and we try to get a story somewhere as well. We do a fully-integrated approach across all avenues. Our events are well-attended, and it’s better for us as an agency because we can sell more services.
Sutton: It’s important for clients to understand integration and diversification. They have no idea what kind of budget they want to work with; to hit their market, you have to diversify. The clients don’t want to hear that or spend the extra money it takes to be integrated in different media.
Finding Staff a Challenge
Brennan: Being in a growth mode causes challenges with recruiting and staffing. Where’s the biggest hole: creative people, media buyers or account executives?
Allen: All of the above.
Shonkwiler: All of the above.
Quillin: It’s across the board. All of us are in a growth mode, and good talent doesn’t stay unemployed very long. Our unemployment rates are the lowest in the country and – unfortunately for us as owners – escalating salaries are an ongoing battle.
Allen: We haven’t had any turnover in five years. We’ve been identifying young talent and getting them involved early so they believe in the company and the direction we’re going. The golden rule for retention is to treat people the way you want to be treated and, as business owners, we have to empathize with what they’re feeling. They should be respected, compensated with full benefits and have a stake in the future by being involved 100 percent in our strategic planning efforts. We do a lot of recruitment, but retention is the first line of defense.
Brennan: How does a large agency like R&R deal with staffing?
Mele: We have about 260 employees now. Our challenges are different at different levels. We’ve gone out of the market for the last eight years for senior-level talent. The biggest challenge with entry-level people is the sense of entitlement: “I’ll come to work with you as long as I can stay in school,” or, “When’s my first promotion?” and, “When can I be vice-president?” Finding people who are willing to do what they must to get to the next level is a challenge we didn’t face 10 or 15 years ago. And kids coming out of school can’t write; how do you get a degree in communications when you can’t put a sentence together? When we find someone who’s talented, even if we don’t have a position, we find them a place because eventually, they’ll end up contributing.
Shonkwiler: A friend of mine works at UNLV, and he told me that 60 to 70 percent of the Millennium scholars have to take remedial math and reading classes. That’s shocking. We need to take a look at the educational system.
Brennan: Do you see different values in young people entering the market?
O’Boyle: Entitlement is a big issue. They feel we owe them something. It’s an entirely different work ethic than the one we were taught.
Knott: Small Business Fortune had an article about how to keep young employees productive and happy. It said they look for four to six weeks of vacation and time to do their extracurricular activities. How do you integrate younger generations with those of my generation who believe you work hard and should be grateful for a two-week vacation?
Mele: We can’t change the way things are, so we’re going to have to figure out how to make it work. We’ll have to adjust, because this generation wants to spend more time with their husbands, wives or kids. Women are realizing it’s not fair to expect them to do everything. We have more flextime schedules, extra benefits for maternity leave and shared workloads because we have to find ways to accommodate their need for balance in their lives.
Lobelson: The work ethic is just not there with the younger generation, especially students. There are so many typos, misspellings and run-on sentences in résumés and cover letters, and then these same people who can’t write want instant gratification. It seems like a lot of the younger people just want to make it to the top right now without working for it. It’s frustrating.
Yakubik: We’re a small enough company that we can sit everyone down and say, “What would make you happy here?” As a result, we’ve implemented Friday barbecues, breakfast every morning and 16 personal days a year. But no matter what you give them, they’ll still want more.
Sutton: Have you seen increased productivity by offering these incentives?
Yakubik: We’ve definitely cut turnover.
Warren: I just hired a 24-year-old, and she’s the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave at night. Our small organization leads by example. I put in long days, and if it takes coming in on a Saturday or a Sunday to get a project done for a client, my employees see that. We don’t punch a clock. You don’t have to come in at a certain time and don’t have to stay until a certain time. Everybody is their own boss, so to speak; you get your job done, and if you want to come in at 10 or stay until six or seven, that works for us. Our employees sense commitment to our long-term clients.
Lobelson: We pay for media classes and employee conferences, but there’s only so much training you can do, because either you can write or you can’t. When you’re in public relations, you’re writing press releases, columns and speeches for clients. It’s a waste for senior people at our company to be teaching someone how to write when they should have learned it years ago in school, and I spend a lot of time editing.
Evolution of the Profession
Brennan: The PR/advertising agency has evolved over the past few years. There seem to be more boutiques now. Sherri, you had mentioned you put teams together?
O’Boyle: Yes. Every one of our real estate clients has different needs and specialties. We try to hand-select the different entities and disciplines that work for that particular client. Someone one who is marketing and building a tower for Gen-Xers has a different approach than someone marketing a master-planned luxury golf course development. I try to pick my disciplines and put together a team of public relations people, graphics people and advertising media buyers.
Brennan: In a market this size, if you consider yourself a niche agency, do you set yourself up for conflicts?
Knott: The challenge is staying the size you want to stay. We are a public relations firm with one lawyer, one dentist, one accountant and one commercial real estate firm. We don’t want 10 dentists or 10 CPAs. We’re not going to be huge, but that’s what we find works best for our size firm. We can do the best job because we’re not trying to cover the bases of all the advertising agencies in the country. We want to remain within our specialty.
Sutton: I would like to know how somebody becomes a “niche firm.” The reason my company hasn’t diversified much is because we have long-term clients who want us to handle everything for them. If I could concentrate on just that one industry it would be great, but we have to constantly reinvent ourselves every time a new client comes to the table.
Brennan: How do you build client loyalty?
O’Boyle: When a client goes to a firm, he wants to know he’s dealing with the principal. People want to be part of the A team and don’t want to be delegated to somebody else. I try to keep the client happy by educating them that the teams are doing the good work under my direction and supervision.
Sutton: We have a key member of the team as a part of the initial client meeting. Right up front, the clients are introduced to somebody else inside, so they know that person is part of the team. If they can’t get a hold of you, they can get a hold of this other person. If you don’t start off that way, it’s harder to hand that account off once they become an in-house client because they feel like they’re being handed back.
Kindred: Clients want a return on investment; they want to see value for the money they’re spending. A return on investment is an important measurement all clients want to see. If you show that, then you have a happy client. If you can’t, you have an opportunity for a challenge.
Quillin: I have been in this town long enough to have seen the sophistication of the market change over the last 25 years; it used to be that you could get along and retain clients just on personal relationships. It’s come down to performance for all of us.
Burch: All of us have had the experience of developing a good relationship with a client in a big organization, but when that person leaves the company, the loyalty leaves with them. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. Big institutions have a short memory, especially if the new contact has a different agenda or relationships that they want to pursue.
Warren: In our company, one of our partners is always involved with almost every account. All of our clients have our cell phone numbers. We have kept our clients as long as we have because they know we are an extension of their team. For a large company that goes through changes in management, we may be the keepers of that company’s institutional history. But it’s important to remember that they are the client and they know more about their company than we do, so we need to be good listeners.
Allen: At the end of the day, nothing replaces hard work and honest communication. We pride ourselves in saying we take a blue-collar work ethic to a white-collar industry. We work hard and that builds loyalty from clients. You do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it.
Is Good Taste Out of Style?
Brennan: Have you seen a shift in the creative process? With the new generation, ads are getting a lot more edgy and the agencies continue to push the envelope.
Shonkwiler: You have to be edgier to get noticed. Everybody’s trying to stand out and be different by coming up with something edgier. Sex sells in this town. Print has a lot of problems with that.
Brennan: Are you offended by the billboards around town?
Sutton: As a parent, I’d like to see it reserved for the Strip.
Burch: It’s the whole nation. All of us have opportunities where we can tell clients, “No, taste still counts for something.” There are plenty of people making a living doing the down and dirty, but any time we can speak up for elevating our taste is good.
Kindred: It’s the changing human marketplace. They want to be noticed by doing things that are inappropriate. There are more options for media but less viewership.
Mele: It’s a reflection of our society.
Kindred: I agree with that.
Mele: There’s no substitute for a good idea. You don’t need swear words to have a good idea.
Knott: It’s just easier to make a profit.
Quillin: At the same time, we shouldn’t increase censorship. The market dictates that different communities have different values across the country. We happen to live in a community where value is a broad range. I think we do a good job policing ourselves.
Allen: I had someone come in two months ago through a contact. They owned strip clubs and wanted to give us an $18,000 retainer. For my business, that’s huge, but I didn’t think one minute about it before I said no. There’s a market for it in this town, but I choose not to be part of it.
Warren: We tend to attract clients with similar values who are like-minded. The kind of work we do is our source of self-promotion; the companies and entities that share the same values we do will seek us out.