Leading customer-focused organisations often display commitment to raising service standards not only in their own company but throughout their industry as well. Communications consultancy Countrywide Porter Novelli (CPN) is determined to prove that public relations has at least as much substance as style. Currently Britain's sixth-largest PR consultancy, CPN takes the broadest view of what its customers want and what their needs might be. Proving that PR pays measurable dividends is, says managing director Paul Miller, a vital ingredient of customer satisfaction which many PR firms ignore.
CPN was established 26 years ago, and its high-profile clients include SmithKline Beecham, BT and McDonald's. 'The main challenge facing our industry in the UK today is improving its image,' argues Miller, who believes this can be achieved by ensuring greater accountability and acceptable measurement standards.
Through its new 'Closer to the Consumer' research programme into consumer response to PR campaigns, CPN aims to quantify the impact of PR on consumer perceptions and their buying habits. This study of 520 UK consumers provides its clients with measurable results of the impact of specific PR initiatives.
'The real value of this research is the picture it will build over time, and the evidence it will provide to guide decisions about campaign tactics,' Miller claims.
Closer to the Consumer builds on the organisation's reputation for innovative approaches to the needs of its 140 customers. Directors conduct face-to-face annual client reviews with key clients who are asked to rate CPN's performance on a range of areas including creativity and value for money. Following the review, feedback is given to the account team and action plans agreed.
The client review system plays a key role in the company's customer strategy and is used to identify themes and issues, track changes and improvements in satisfaction levels and set performance targets for the following year.
'Almost without exception, both the client and ourselves derive substantial benefit from this process,' Miller points out. More than 95% of its customers declared themselves satisfied during the most recent client review.
Two of the company's products - the crisis-management service 'Reflex' and media-training programme 'Newsreal' - were developed in response to client research. The Reflex service (available 365 days a year) has provided support to companies faced with problems such as product recalls. Reflex won the Public Relations Consultants Association's first Outstanding Innovation in Consultancy Practice Award last year.
In a bid to achieve its ambition of becoming the number-one overall PR consultancy in the UK by 2001 (a vision tagged within the company as '1x1'), CPN has targeted clients in the healthcare sector.
The organisation currently comprises 232 staff, with a new HQ in Banbury and offices in London, Brussels, Paris, Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The separate office sites share the company's 1x1 vision and its values known as the four 'I's - imagination, irreverence, improvement and initiative.
The colourful four 'I's logo is displayed in all offices and on most company documents. These values have been translated into competencies which provide a focus for all people management issues from selection to appraisal, training and succession planning.
Strong leadership, a clear vision and unifying values were also evident in this category's two other finalists: the Chippenham-based Fleet Support Group, a vehicle management company and the Enterprise Services division of IT services and support provider, Sun Microsystems. CPN emerged as the winner thanks to its all-round strength, not just in vision, values and leadership, but in understanding customers and anticipating their needs.
- Keep the vision simple
- Create measurable service standards
- Adopt clear values to unify a multi-site business
- Give customers more than they expect
- Take the lead in setting industry standards.