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Action, Interaction and Reaction from the Ritz team

Are you paying for what you get?

Posted: April 19, 2012 - 8:00 PM ET - by Elisabeth

Winston Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for a million pounds?
Socialite: Mr. Churchill, I would certainly think about it.
Churchill: Would you sleep with me for five pounds?
Socialite: What kind of a woman do you think I am!
Churchill: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

As a friend and I discussed current news about the secret service agents in Cartagena over dinner last night, I couldn’t help but think of this old joke, which I’ve also seen attributed to George Bernard Shaw, WC Fields and Mark Twain. It’s just not so funny as the lead paragraph of a news story.

However, the joke also makes me think about public relations. It’s not the oldest profession in the world, but sometimes our customers do want to haggle over price.

Over the past few years, in a tough economy, I’ve been tempted to negotiate our fees for the promise of growing assignments, the glow of big name clients or a project that excites the team, but I’ve learned there’s a price for that too.

The biggest impact is on the quality of our work. I know we’re not alone. From multinational agencies to freelancers, many of our colleagues struggle with the challenge of doing their best work, providing outstanding client service and meeting the budget constraints of increasingly cost-conscious clients.

The dilemma has led to interesting conversations about how to provide “great” service on a budget that only pays for “good.” Our structure supports this idea. Without the overhead for bricks and mortar offices, we can use our resources to attract the best communicators for the job. Those senior-level experts, with experience and well-honed skills, work more efficiently and effectively. Yet, there’s always the challenge of having a specific number of dollars (= to hours of time) to get a project done and wishing for a few more hours to perfect the end result.

I often find myself asking where my “investment” in the client’s business ends and their “you get what you pay for” begins.

I really don’t know the answer … but I have found that education helps.

When our clients understand what goes into the process, they understand the costs, why experience often matters and the economies of scale to get to “great.” Our budget estimates include a detailed overview of the steps that will be taken and the number of hours it will take to handle a project. It’s an important process for our team to ensure we don’t miss any details of the project, so we’ve taken it a step further and provided the information to clients.

Education hasn’t solved everything. We have still had to make investments to impress a difficult client or to ensure that our work meets our own team’s high standards (and that’s one reason that actually makes me proud). We have even had to walk away from great projects that would definitely require us to take a loss.

I guess we’re developing our answer in the balance, which is good … I’m not the kind of woman who likes to haggle.


Mastering meeting & greeting

Posted: April 5, 2012 - 6:30 PM ET - by Elisabeth

I’m excited to be headed to TEDMED next week. It will be four days of inspiring thinking and fascinating people. In between dozens of amazing speakers, there will be 1,000 attendees to meet.

I’ve talked with friends and colleagues, and it seems no one is completely confident about walking up to a stranger and striking up a conversation. However,  there are some things to remember that may help me – and you  – do just that with a little more confidence.

  • The woman standing alone in the corner or the man at the buffet table is as uncomfortable as you are; he or she will be relieved by your approach and introduction.
  • If you’re that woman or guy, make yourself approachable … put away your smartphone, smile and make eye contact with people around you.
  • TEDMED tries to make it easy to connect. They’ve asked each of us to name three inanimate objects that define us. They’ll put those on our name tags, giving us a thought-provoking reason to ask questions and get to know each other.  Literally and figuratively, it’s a great approach. Asking a question is an easy way to engage someone else – whether it’s what they do, how they enjoyed the last session or whether they’ve tried the chocolate chip cookies on the buffet table.
  • Listen to the response. Be sincerely interested. Relate something you’ve heard or read to their answer.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to share, briefly, information about yourself and your business.  In marketing terms, that’s an elevator pitch … and I read recently that the average elevator ride is 118 seconds.

    So, I guess I’m ready to approach the situation – and other people – with a smile and a question. Now I just need to pack!