Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO, CommunicationsMatch™
In research we have conducted over the last five years, one thing has been consistently clear: recommendations matter. When we asked clients how they found agencies (in our first PR & Communications Agency Search Report in 2017), 76 percent said they ask peers. Interestingly, only 20 percent said they used Google or LinkedIn as a source of agencies.
When we conducted that first survey, we were in peak conference, in-person networking and event mode. The world has changed. We are emerging from the deepest trough of in-person networking and social engagement in generations, into a new hybrid landscape in which, by any expected yardstick, there will be less getting together.
This matters because, if clients and agencies are not connecting in person, word of mouth loses one of its drivers. And that means, the list of recommended agencies by communications executives is likely to be narrower and frankly even less meaningful than it was before COVID-19.
Asking peers for recommendations is a deeply-flawed short-cut to coming up with an agency shortlist. It offers busy people the masquerade of pseudo due-diligence. It’s what we all do, in the absence of better options. It also, to a great extent, is premised on the idea that most agencies are the same.
With the continuing evolution of the industry, recommendations have become all the more important in the process of shortlisting and selecting firms. With the growth of digital recommendations platforms, there is also greater awareness of how, despite being designed with good intent, they have been subject to abuse.
The challenge is to offer the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth recommendations in ways that reflect and support the complexity of client experience and decision-making.
At CommunicationsMatch™ we recognized from the beginning that crowd-sourced, Yelp-style reviews were not the way to go. In a recent Insights Blog post, I noted that, “Unmoderated feedback provides equal opportunity for the reasonable, uninformed, malicious, or self-promoting to weigh in.” We see this every day. People find ways to game the system and those with axes to grind make for very squeaky wheels.
We built our platform so clients can contribute recommendations, while giving agencies the opportunity to approve what gets published on their profile. In addition, agencies can include and link to testimonials and recommendations on their website or a third-party site. The point here is that when it comes to reviews and recommendations, it’s important to have appropriate controls in place.
Clutch’s professional services company reviews, which have become a much sought-after credential, are also the result of a disciplined process that gets at the heart of the client’s experience. With the partnership we announced at the end of the summer, Clutch reviews can also be included in profiles on CommunicationsMatch. The key we believe is to offer clients a variety of sources of opinion and perspective.
Reviews and recommendations built into digital platforms provide “human” metrics that help clients select the best firms or people for a task. But they aren’t the only decision metrics. Whether buying a TV or choosing an agency, the decision process starts with qualifications and is supported by recommendations.
For agencies and clients, recommendations will grow in importance with the accelerated shift to digital hiring tools as a result of COVID-19, continued industry specialization, and access to greater numbers of agencies as location becomes less of a determining factor.
What this does not mean, and never has, is that clients will only rely on digital recommendations to make decisions. Human interaction, engagement and, ultimately, the checking of references, is equally, if not more important, in the search process.
With a search for qualified firms now taking minutes, time will be used where it is most effective and focused – in the process of choosing between qualified firms and hiring the one with the best fit for the company and project.
About the Author: Simon Erskine Locke is Founder & CEO of communications agency and professional search and services platform, CommunicationsMatch™, which powers PRSA’s Find a Firm. He is a regular contributor to CommPRO.biz and vice president of the Foreign Press Association. Search for Agencies, Professionals & Service providers. Create a profile on CommunicationsMatch.