For public relations veteran Elliot Sloane, CEO of Sloane & Co., fundamentals come first. In order to develop and execute strategic communications programs for his clients, it’s first necessary to determine a client’s core message.
"If you don’t understand what the company is about and what they’re trying to accomplish, you can’t be effective," he said. Research, analysis, strategy and goal setting must be part of that process to ensure clarity, relevance and impact, he said.
"We’re critically important in the overall marketing strategy," Sloane said. "We help [clients] drive the brand value, reinforce existing relationships and launch new products."
Part of that, he said, is testing clients’ assumptions with the media, analysts and others. "We can compare what those constituents are telling us to what the clients are saying," he said.
His father, Leonard Sloane, who was a business reporter at The New York Times for many years, used to come home in the evening and talk about "these damn PR guys" at the dinner table, he said. The younger Sloane learned early that "we need to be able to be credible."
That includes asking tough questions and occasionally offering a reality check on the client’s reputation in the market. It’s often necessary to go back to the client and "splash cold water on them, but here’s a towel and a comb and here’s how we’re going to execute your strategy," he said.
In developing communications strategies, Sloane said integrated programs that link similar messages aimed at a number of audiences-national and trade media, the investment community, employees, customers and industry observers-are necessary to gain visibility.
However, targeted messages to specific individuals are also important.
"There is a core message from companies whether you’re American Express or TiVo," Sloane said. "There is a core TiVo message about technology and transforming the TV experience, but the story we tell consumers will be different from what we say to b-to-b marketing audiences."
Despite limited budgets, Sloane said, a focused approach can be powerful. "The more specific you can be about who it is you need to reach, the more successful you can be. We believe one story that reaches procurement managers in Purchasing magazine, for example, is a lot more important and impactful than 10 stories in local newspapers and other outlets not read by the target audience."
He also stressed that no one shop can do it all.
"We’ve been successful because we are focused. We don’t do all things for all people," he said. "We do a couple of things very well: strategic communications, counseling and execution."
Current b-to-b clients include American Express Corporate Travel, New York Life, VerticalNet, IMAX Corp., Bloomberg and LG Philips.