How do you differentiate your organization from your competition?
That’s a key question we face daily with all our corporate, municipal and nonprofit clients. While you might argue that cities, townships and charities don’t have traditional competitors, they and all our business clients work hard to be THE choice – whether a customer is buying a good or service, locating a home or business or writing a check of support.
Last month, my team and I tackled this question for Sabo PR – and I was surprised at how difficult it was to distill our answer in a meaningful way.
To guide us in this process, we engaged Lou Rabaut, a partner at Warner Norcross + Judd who goes well beyond practicing labor and employment law and coaches businesses and organizations on how to be better. I’ve worked with Lou for nearly 20 years and am a great admirer of his commonsense counsel, no-nonsense advice and high-wattage presentation style.
Lou led a three-plus hour morning session during our annual strategic planning session, guiding us through a series of conversations about what makes Sabo PR different from our competitors. Why should I use this PR firm, he asked me and my team? Better still, why should I recommend this PR firm to others?
We started down what I suspect is a typical path in answering those questions. We’re great at what we do. We’re focused on our customers. We’re proactive with clients.
Wrong, wrong and wrong. Well, maybe right, but don’t your competitors all say the same thing, Lou asked? What really differentiates Sabo PR?
So, we dug beyond those surface issues to come up with our list: an expertise in municipal matters. In-house photography and videography services. A model of embedded team members with our clients. A focus on West Michigan. A good reputation.
From here, Lou led us through an exercise to develop our mission and vision statements. Having worked as a journalist for eight years and in PR for 21, I must admit that I was skeptical of the value of mission and vision statements. I’d seen all too many times how these were developed with such great care, only to be relegated to a dusty plaque in a conference room or abandoned during the first sign of distress.
I’m now a believer – and I owe that to Lou. We tried to develop our mission and vision statements at our 2016 planning session, only to have the project flounder and eventually die. Bringing in an external broker for the discussion not only kept us on task, his experience with hundreds of other companies – most much larger than ours – guided us to create a mission, which describes SPR’s reason to exist, and a vision, which points to what SPR will be in five years.
Lou being Lou, he took us one better than that and helped us create a social contract. This contract is an agreement on how we are all going to work together and affirms our commitment to one another.
As we began this brainstorming process, I was called away to assist a client with a social media issue that demanded immediate attention. Pointing to the first of our differentiators – we’re always available – I ducked out for about 40 minutes to handle the situation.
And I’m glad I did. When I returned, the team had crafted about 15 principles that we all live by daily. It was incredibly gratifying – and occasionally a little eye opening – to hear what the team thought was critical.
Lou encouraged us to select 10 and flesh them out. Brian Greenleaf took the lead in this process, expanding on our top choices and adding meat to the proverbial bones so that an outsider could see and understand. Lou suggested we regularly review the document to keep ourselves all pulling in the same direction. He also said we should make it part of our next hiring process, which I intend to do. Our social contract is probably the best way to lay expectations for a new team member.
Words can’t express how much I appreciate and value Lou leading us through this process, so I have gone one better – I’m actively referring Lou to clients and friends. He’s got two sessions with two of our clients on the books, and I’m on the lookout for more.
If you’re interested, you can read more about Lou here. I would highly encourage you to give him a call.
PS: If you’d like to read our mission, vision and social contract, click here.