We recently had the opportunity to sit down with friend and Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) partner Jim Bianchi, the president of Detroit-based Bianchi PR. Jim shared with us his agency’s secrets to social media and client retention, as well as the interesting story about how he got his start in automotive PR.
How and why did you choose to focus on one industry?
Well, I worked in PR – both agency and corporate sides – for 14 years before I started my own agency. In that time, I realized that the auto industry is one of the few industries that has an intellectual capital. Even if the manufacturing is not all based here in Detroit, a lot of the decision makers and media that cover the industry are still based here.
Almost everything in the economy here revolves around the auto industry, which is the largest manufacturing sector of all the industries in the United States. For example, one in 10 jobs is related to the auto industry. Approximately 70 percent of a car is produced by companies other than the auto maker, and there are probably 10,000 parts in the average vehicle. So, the auto supplier sector is where a lot of the innovation and technology is happening. There are an estimated 5,600 auto suppliers, all of which are trying to get their message out and tell their story.
From these suppliers, I noticed that there was a real need for senior PR people who know the media and industry, hence Bianchi PR. Within the automotive supply chain, we don’t do a lot of project work. We have a lot of long-term relationships, much of which are initially focused on media relations. And, as long as we are doing a good job, our client relationships typically turn into long-term relationships (one of our clients has been with us for about 25 years).
What’s your secret to keeping clients for such a long period of time?
I’ve always kept two mantras: “be the client” and “own the client experience” to help anticipate client needs. A large part of our work includes putting ourselves in the client’s shoes. We do that by constantly asking ourselves, “What would I want or find helpful?” and “What would I want my agency to do for me?” It really comes down to going the extra mile to surprise and delight the client. That includes keeping the account fresh. Adding new perspective to an account team is one approach that has worked for us.
Another factor in client longevity is that we don’t have a lot of staff turnover – the people who are here have been here for a long time. The average tenure of the five of us who work directly on accounts is 18 years. That’s almost unheard of when it comes to senior-level experience in our market. Our newest team member has been here five years. We try to treat each client like they’re the most important one. Our employees stick with their accounts for a long time, which helps develop consistency.
More than anything else, I’ve found that it helps to be realistic about, and manage, client expectations: we’ve always tried to under promise and over deliver. And as a good business partner, we sometimes recommend things to our clients that don’t put money in our pockets, but make good business sense. We try to look at everything in the long run. It’s not only about quick hits.
You joined PRGN three years ago. How has the network been good for your business?
It’s been great. I felt like I needed PRGN because I have global clients who are expanding to Mexico, India, Eastern Europe, etc. I would much rather provide them with the same kind of expertise in those markets through PRGN partners who I know and trust than see the mega agencies get a foot in the door. A good example is partnering with member agencies to take on a national launch project for Domino’s Pizza. When that RFP came across my desk, we would have been ill-equipped to handle it without the support and expertise of PRGN. Domino’s wanted a firm with automotive experience because it was interested in rolling out its new DXP delivery vehicle in 13 major cities. PRGN had affiliates across the country who could handle every one of those markets. So, with PRGN’s national reach and our automotive expertise, we pursued the RFP as a PRGN team, and it worked out great! The first week after the initial national press event, Domino’s got 1 billion media impressions. It was really cool to see how our affiliates were able to take the basic program and make it work for their specific market. Thanks to all the PRGN participants, it turned out to be the big winner at the PRGN Awards competition last autumn – winning three top awards.
You do such a great job with social media. How did you become a social media guru?
Not sure I would say we are gurus, but back in 2008, we didn’t know anything about social media. With the economic crash, our clients had to cut back. Because of that, we had extra capacity at the firm and rather than layoff any of my team, I told the staff that we were going to start filling up our time by volunteering with local charities and educating ourselves by studying and implementing our own social media. I’ve always felt that “learning by doing” is helpful, but we didn’t want to be experimenting on clients when the need arises – so we developed the agency social media program. From the start of the program, we started getting questions from auto suppliers about social media. We discovered that no one had good hard data on how our target market – the auto supplier sector – was using social media. So, we took it upon ourselves to look at what the top 25 automotive suppliers were posting publicly on their various platforms in our SMaASH (Social Media and Auto Supplier Habits) study. We analyzed the data and used that as a means to generate publicity, create valuable blog info and as a door-opener for some tough prospects. It also helped us reinvent our image and took us from being known as a media relations firm to being seen as social media “experts” in the automotive supplier community. Today, we are working hard to keep building on that expertise.