Listen to the Ninth instalment of the Choosing an Agency podcast.

Ronke Lawal, founder of Ariatu PR consultants clients on PR strategy, training in personal branding and media discusses the importance of detailed briefs and disclosing budgets. Ronke reveals her dream dinner party would include Oprah Winfrey and Graham Norton and that ensuring there is a synergy between you and the agency is paramount. 

Alex: Hello, and welcome to choosing an agency. My name’s Alex and I'm here to talk about how to select the right agency to grow your business, giving you the inside line on things to look out for the next time you need external support. I'll be interviewing industry figures from all manner of backgrounds to get hints and tips on the things to consider when choosing an agency. Today, I'm joined by Ronke Lawal from Ariatu PR.

Ronke: Hello, Alex, thank you for inviting me onto the podcast.

Alex: So, for people who are just meeting you for the first time, could you share a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Ronke: Sure. So, I am a PR consultant, PR and communications consultant based in London. I have been running my business for a long time, I don’t want to give away my age, even I'm proud of my age. I've been running my business for a long time. I tend to work with creative entrepreneurs, creative enterprises, in a range of lifestyle, consumer led businesses. it's been an interesting journey. I was born in Hackney, East London so I think that’s where I get my hustle – it’s the mixture between the Hackney and the Nigerian, so I get my hustle mindset from that.

Alex: Excellent. And to give people a feel for who you are, if you could invite four people, past or present, to a meal, who would they be?

Ronke: Oh yeah, love this question. So, let's see. I think it's going to sound really obvious. I think a lot of your listeners are going to be like, oh yeah, that's a usual one. I think I'd like to invite Oprah Winfrey, purely because she was such an influential figure growing up, seeing a black woman on TV and in the media. I think I just could not have a dinner party and not invite Oprah; it just doesn’t make any sense. So definitely, Oprah -

Alex: She’d get the conversation going

Ronke: Yeah, and she's a great interviewer. She’s great, exactly, with conversations. I’d actually like to invite, this is going to sound really – so, you’ve given me four. Oh, man this is hard Alex. Okay, so let me invite Pele because I’ve just watched Pele’s documentary on Netflix, and I grew up watching football with my dad. And I feel like, well not as much as I used to, but I feel like – Pele and his journey and just where he’s come from, where he’s been in his life – really interesting. So, I’d invite Pele. So, I’m thinking about people who are alive, so we’ve got Pele, it would probably be Maradona because I really like Maradona. So, Oprah, Pele, Lennox Louis and then I feel like who’s one of my faves that I really like? Graham Norton. Graham Norton. I like Graham -

Alex: He’s hilarious.

Ronke: So, I think that'd be a great dinner party. Very unusual, but I think it’d be fun.

Alex: I wonder how Lennox and Graham would get on. I used to live in Stoke Newington back in the day, and so Linux was from that area, wasn't he?

Ronke: Yeah, yeah. That’d be fun. I mean, I've never met – have I met Lennox? No, I’ve not met Lennox. I met someone who used to do his pedicures.

Alex: What a thing, having pedicures.

Ronke: Yeah, I had a pedicure with somebody who actually used to do his feet as well. So, that’s a very weird fact.

Alex: Perfect. So, what I'm trying to do with this podcast series is to, we're going to formulate a guide and some helpful hints and tips and insider knowledge on the how clients can better select the agencies that they work with. And so, some of the next batch of questions are more focused around that sort of stuff. So, what's some of the worst advice you've ever heard the client be given?

Ronke: Oh, wow. So, I think some of the worst advice that they've been given is that you can measure – so for example, with the PR that I do, a lot of my clients come to me for Media Relations. So, trying to get into the press, or at least building relationships with the press and the media and I think some of the worst advice that my clients have been given is that you can measure media success or media coverage by worth, by value. So, you can say, okay, this interview is equivalent to an advert. So, this interview that you've been given in a newspaper, if you were to measure it by cost of an advert - that's how you would measure it, which is very – you can’t measure interviews and media engagement as the way you would measure an advertising campaign. So, it’s that kind of advice which causes a lot of issues and especially when it comes to PR. This is why when clients come to me - when a client comes to me and immediately starts from sales, I have to kind of pull them back and say, that's not quite how PR works, you can't start to measure PR in the same way as you would advertising and sales. So, they get bad advice in that respect.

Alex: Absolutely. And I've worked at big media agencies where, in the group there’s been a PR agency and they will say we've got this many centimeters of coverage in these publications. And we then had to work out the equivalent media value and that kind of stuff, and so it's that kind of thing we think, it’s terrible.

Ronke: Yeah, I think if you're doing it from your side, fine, but as a PR, we can talk about the reach we can measure – it’s different ways of measuring PR impact. But to make it a like for like equivalent, because remember, interviews and press features, they have a different function - they're not the same as an advertising function, right? Because it's about changing perception. How do you measure how an audience responds or reacts to something that you've said in an interview? It’s about that humanisation and relationship building – so, yeah you can talk about how many lines you’ve got and if, from the marketing side, decide you want to do that measurement, that’s fine. But from the PR side, we - I just find it's very restrictive as well, because then you've got clients who are just focused on that vanity matrix, focused on trying to get into certain publications that actually have no impact on anything. It just looks good and that’s not what we want.

Alex: That makes absolute sense. And then in terms of getting briefs from clients, what are some of the best factors that you've seen included in those?

Ronke: Oh, yeah. I like – oh my gosh, such a good question. Because I love clearly defined briefs that highlight what is it that you're looking for? What do you want? What are your expectations? Your budget - having a budget is a really big deal. Making sure you identify your key goals from a PR campaign or - some of my colleagues in the industry don't like to use the word PR campaign. So, a campaign that's overarching, so a campaign that includes PR, includes marketing, that includes advertising, includes all the core elements, social media. So, make sure you've got clear cut goals, and actually identify and really pull out clearly, ultimately, what you want the impact to be from a campaign.

Alex: Yeah. That impact has to be aligned to a sort of business goal eventually.

Ronke: Exactly.

Alex: So, then you touched on budgets. And so how important is it to get a budget from a client when you're first speaking to them?

Ronke: It's so important, and I think as whether you're an agency, or even as a consultant like myself, you’ve got to know how much you’re going to get paid. What you can do with your clients, right, so a client has to come with the knowledge that they obviously have to pay their agency or their consultant, but they also have to have a budget aside for activity, for the actual execution of a campaign. Sometimes clients, and especially in our ever-changing world when it comes to tech and social media, some clients don't factor that in – that you have to have that money aside to make sure that your campaign is executed well. A lot of my clients are small business owners, right. So, they're not going to have the same budget as those big companies that assign huge PR agencies, not only assign PR agency, they have marketing agencies, as well as other agencies. So, they have all of these agencies they're working with. Small businesses might not have that scale of budget, but they should still make sure they factor it in and really look at, okay, how do we make sure we, if we're being realistic about goals – if we have a budget that can speak to certain activities that are going to have an impact, then it’s going to make it more successful.

Alex: Absolutely. I think it's always important to get a - because there's a big difference from what you can do for 1000 pounds a month to 5000 pounds a month to 50,000 pounds a month. And without getting that core bit of information, you can go off on a tangent that just doesn't fulfil what the clients actually can afford.

Ronke: Exactly.

Alex: So, in terms of then, when a client's looking at agencies and looking to build a roster to brief, that kind of thing. What can they do to start looking at an agency’s reputation?

Ronke: I know, one thing sometimes because it's so inbuilt in the work I do - I love talking about reputation, right? So, I always say just a really easy thing to do is to spend your time just monitoring their social media. So, before you even approach an agency look at, not just their website. I definitely will say read a website. It surprised me. Sometimes the clients will approach me or a colleague in the industry – they’ve not read websites, they’ve not taken the time to read, okay, can this agency actually fulfil a brief or are they relevant to my industry, my sector, or do they have the right energy? Sometimes what I want potential clients to do is to look at agencies and consultant’s, independent consultants, and see them not just for their capabilities, like, can they do the job? But also, do they care enough? Or will they care enough about my business? Because that really will make a huge difference. So, I always say, make sure you review websites, look at their social media, have a look at some of the content that’s outside of the business. So, look at – for the founder of an agency or CEO and MD or individual like me, of an agency or consultancy – have they written thought pieces? Are they on podcasts like this? What are they saying on podcasts like this? Take time just to listen to at least one thing that they’ve done, or read an interview outside of campaign work, to see if there's going to be a synergy because that makes a huge difference. I've had that just from my own experience, clients have come to me because they've read something I've written or I've been quoted in, or they listen to a podcast, and they're like, oh, this is someone I want to work with. It's not just about me being able to do a job, they actually want to work for me, because I sound like I care – my reputation precedes me. I like that.

Alex: No, absolutely. I think that's right. I think that there is a chemistry that you form when you're first speaking to a client, that all of that kind of information outside of the website you're talking about, so the thought leadership stuff, feeds into that whole process.

Ronke: Absolutely.

Alex: What are the signs that an agency is a good fit for a client? So, when they've started speaking, that kind of thing.

Ronke: Money is always going to be a priority for all agencies. But I think as an agency that's done its research - so once I’ve received the brief or have been approached by a client, an agency that actually shows that they care and understand the story behind the client, the story behind whatever it is the client is trying to publicise or talk about. And remember that especially when it comes to PR, the work that we do, it's not just media stuff. So, if we're looking at, for example, if a client approached us for a crisis, so if something's gone wrong, and a client needs some help, you've got to look at, okay, has this agency done similar work or care about an issue, enough to be able to address this crisis authentically? You can tell pretty quickly which agencies could engage and communicate effectively according to the audiences that client's trying to reach. And I don't know from your experience - what's your experience in that when you're engaging with clients from your side?

Alex: So, I think you can look at clients, and you can group them into different characteristics, can’t you? So, you've got the ones that will be into the detail, you've got others that will empower you and let you get on with the job, you've got others that maybe have a little bit more of a bullying approach to working with an agency, you've then got others that want to perhaps win awards and get some career progression and business progression as a result of working with you. And so, we typically - as a small business owner, I've got a team here that I have to look after. And life's tough enough without having that - we’re in the performance business, or we have to deliver results. And so, we feel that pressure. We feel that there's a certain amount of stress and responsibility that comes with it and that's something that we thrive on, and so a client that can be a little bit cajoling or bullying is one that we’ll actively try and steer away. Because I think it's quite a popular subject to talk about, but mental health and that kind of stuff, it stresses people out. And I've got a look after my staff just as I would look after myself or my girlfriend, or my sons or anyone else. So, that kind of client we try and steer away from the internal, and that's more looking at what's potentially a bad fit. And so, a good fit are typically the clients that empower us, let's get on with it. Clients that are looking for really significant performance for awards entries, that kind of thing and the other end, we're happy to work with clients that know the detail and want to get right into it. But I think it's sometimes you know, it's just those more bullying clients.

Ronke: I've had a few and I think it’s important to know when to sack a client to just say, look, you know, the money, you know, it doesn't matter how much money they're paying, you know, that stress, you've just, you've nailed it in terms of like mental health. So, from our side, from the agency side, from the consulting side, really valuing our mental health and especially for our teams, but also for ourselves as founders or business owners. It's so important. Burnout is real. We're always looking for opportunities, and we're looking to grow our businesses. We don't - and this is why I want us to change especially in our sectors, they're very results driven like you say, there's a lot of pressure. It's not a joke, but I kind of make this joke that PR, especially, it's almost like if you don't want to be thanked, get into this industry. And it’s quite sad because clients want, want, want but they rarely – they give the money – but they rarely give that holistic thank you and checking in and saying well done. And actually, when you start to notice those bullying clients, like you rightly say, know when to cut off - and I've had to cut off graciously, the good thing is find a way of doing it graciously so that you don't get - you don't want to get a crisis, another crisis where you’ve just got clients attacking you or whatever. But knowing where to cut off graciously and moving away so we can protect our mental health, it’s so important.

Alex: Absolutely. On the agency side, there’s almost - like it's all part of life's rich tapestry, whereby, in any week, you can go from winning a client to losing a client, winning a pitch, losing the pitch, recruiting staff members, having staff members leave, getting campaigns that perform well, campaigns that are performing badly. You've got your own stuff going on personally, you've got your team stuff going on personal. So, that whole sort of maelstrom of factors, it can be sort of some that sometimes you'll end up at the end of the week and you’ll sort of think it’s been a good week, and there's been a lot going on. But it’s the emotional sort of volatility of that whole process, because it can be quite opposite ends of the spectrum.

Ronke: Right. Absolutely.

Alex: So, are there any signs that you look out for that a client is a bad fit?

Ronke: If they're not listening, if they’re not – if you advise them, if things aren't maybe going in going the right direction, in terms of campaign, and you advise them and say, okay, this is what we need to do, we need to change course, and they don’t want to listen, they want to focus on what they want to do. Or sometimes it feels like – some clients who aren’t a good fit, they hire you or bring you on board, to almost tell you that they can do a better job than you. That’s when you know that a client’s not a good fit. It’s like they’re trying to find a way of undermining, progressively undermining the work you do. So, not listening to your advice, really big, big, big red flag. Obviously, lack of comms, I know I'm a communicator by trade, but I just feel like it's really important to get regular updates, where I'm not having to constantly chase for updates. And then because I'm having to constantly chase or not getting updates, I can't do the best job possible, and then I'll get blamed. That’s when you know a client’s not going to be a good fit – if you’re constantly having to chase. The most obvious one is that payment side of things if a client’s just taking the mick when it comes to payments and just poor communication.

Alex: I think that there's a slight insanity to appoint someone to work on your behalf, and then tell them that you want them to do it this way rather than say, this is my problem. You go out and solve it. That's your specialism. And I'll get on and run my business over here.

Ronke: We say it and I’m laughing because the amount of times – it doesn’t really happen anymore – but it’s like wow. Why are you paying me if you think you can do a better job? Clearly, you don’t know how to do this job but you’re paying – it’s just wild.

Alex: With clients, there is a certain amount of momentum that as an agency, you need to build up, and if a client isn't sharing stuff with you in a timely fashion, you end up spending more time chasing them for the stuff than actually doing the work that's going to make a difference to their business.

Ronke: And getting them to understand that, I don’t know. As we’re talking it’s like, wow, memories. I don’t want to think about it.

Alex: Excellent. So, are there any red flags that a client should look out for when speaking to an agency?

Ronke: So, from the flip side for clients, making sure - you do want somebody who is just - they’ve got clear comms channels and they’re responsive. So, responsiveness, making sure that whoever's been assigned to you within that agency to manage your campaign - that's the person. You're not getting kind of messed about and pulled about too often. And I also think just making sure that, regardless of the size of your campaign, and yourself as a client, you're made to feel special. So, I’m not saying spoil clients – again from agency side, we don’t want to spoil our clients too much. But as a client, you do want to make sure - recognising that obviously the agency is going to have lots of other clients. But you do want to make sure that, okay, if you do send an email and get that response, that they do care. That, even once in a while they're amplifying on social media, your projects, and your campaign. A good agency should showcase the fact that they are working alongside you and they're proud of the work they're doing for you, and that they do care. So, I think it's just that balance. It is a relationship, right? It's a little bit like dating. So, you've got to make sure that there’s a balance.

Alex: Absolutely. We always say internally, if a client has to chase us for something, we’ve failed, because we should be managing that client, informing them of the status the whole way through the whole stage. And so that's something we try and live to. We don't always get that. But it is that sort of investment in the sort of ongoing communication on both sides that will make that whole partnership successful.

Ronke: Exactly. That's it.

Alex: This has been great. Where can people find out more about you online?

Ronke: So, I wouldn't be that person to say Google me. So, I have my own eponymous website, RonkeLawal.com, and I post regularly on there some articles just for myself, and I'll post this podcast at the end of it. I love to share the things that I've engaged with. I’ve got Twitter fingers – I’ve taken a break from Twitter – but I love Twitter so you can find me, Ronke Lawal on Twitter. And Ariatu PR has its own presence, its own website, LinkedIn. So, I’m on all the usuals and if you do Google me there's no surprises. I've got no skeletons. But I'm an interesting person. You know when you Google me, I always say this, but it's quite it's fun. You'll find some fun stuff about me. I’m passionate about PR in the industry. I'm passionate about just making sure it's an inclusive, diverse space. I love having conversations like this, this has been a really good conversation. So yeah, just find me and engage with me after this podcast. Thank you, Alex, it’s been fun.

Alex: Perfect. Thanks for joining me today.

Ronke: Thank you.

Alex: Thanks for listening. If you found the conversation useful, please join me again next time for Choosing an Agency.

Choosing an Agency is available for you to download from all the usual podcast platforms or find out more, here: www.AlexHolliman.com