Authenticity, Agility and Pursuit of Brand Clarity

Derek LaVallee
Derek LaVallee

As communications professionals, we position clients to appeal to and influence a diverse range of audiences while retaining their singular authentic brand. Although those two objectives are not mutually exclusive, accomplishing them requires dexterity and discipline.

Self-awareness is a key to successfully maintaining that balance. Oftentimes, we find that our clients are the last ones to recognize when their external messaging is ineffective or, worse, damaging to their brand.

But what happens when PR execs are faced with the need to follow our own advice and in essence become our own client? We faced that dilemma and here’s how we tackled it:

Perception = Reality:

Like other communications operations that integrate multiple practice areas such as PR and public affairs, advertising, marketing and interactive services, we are greater than the sum of our parts. Collectively, we are creative problem solvers who combine those skills to meet our clients’ needs.

Those same clients have preconceived notions about what type of agency they need and the disciplines they offer. Public relations and public affairs professionals evaluate, rationalize and ultimately buy agency services differently than advertising professionals.

But for an agency like ours that has built its business model to address clients’ needs through integrated delivery of a portfolio of communications services, this can be a bitter truth.

Be dynamic, stay authentic:

The grouping of dynamic professionals who can create an award-winning TV spot and can also stop the bleeding and start the healing in the midst of a client’s crisis, is what makes an agency versatile and effective. The team that will design that commercial and the group that will address the crisis will not necessarily think, act or even dress the same, nor should they.

As an agency we had to change the virtual handshake we extend to current and prospective clients.

A demonstration of the shift in our approach was the launch of a dedicated website specific to our public relations and public affairs practice.

While our previous Web presence did include our public relations and public affairs capacity, it did not manifest itself in a way that responded to the expectations of the end user.

Our website, for example, was not instilling requisite confidence in the external/government affairs executives shopping for agencies. Loyalty to selling our own strategy should never be a reason to miss opportunities. A client’s issue may ultimately be addressed through a combination of earned and paid media, but we have learned that different clients need different entry points into our agency.

Get up close and personal:

When extending that virtual handshake via your online presence, care must be taken to lean forward, highlight your assets and eliminate ambiguity.

We want to illustrate the diversity in experience and the accompanying approach that allow us to not only meet any client’s needs but also identify and explore additional opportunities that might not have been realized at the beginning of the relationship.

The approach to our website is simple. We let clients know what we do, how we do it, who will be doing it for them and who we’re currently doing it for. We highlight who we are, right down to the details about every member of our team.

We illustrate what we do, with clear and concise language about each line of service and how they are mixed and matched to meet clients’ needs. Referencing our current client list gives visitors to the site a sense of the varied issues we tackle and the diverse companies and organizations we work for.

Don’t assume, ensure:

While it’s flattering in the moment when a referred prospect exclaims, “Wow, we had no idea you offered this capacity and level of expertise,” that statement illustrates the challenge. It also begs the question: How much business have we lost, or worse, were never even in the game to land, because of this lack of outward clarity?

The first step at a solution is admitting there is a problem, or better yet, an opportunity. The solution doesn’t necessitate blowing up the current structure and changing our identity.

Nothing is more counterproductive than working to develop the resources that prospective clients need and not presenting those resources in the most efficient and effective way. PRN


Derek LaVallee is a partner at Kemp Goldberg Partners. He can be reached at


This article appeared in the June 3 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.