Digital Marketing, Guest Posts, Integrated Marketing and Media, PR 20

Why Are Companies Not Valuing Judgment As A Critical Element

Noemi Pollack Why Are Companies Not Valuing Judgment As A Critical ElementGuest post by Noemi Pollack, CEO & Founder of The Pollack PR Marketing Group, a 25-year old integrated PR and marketing agency in Century City, CA.

Inevitably, when corporate America seeks a PR agency to support their communications effort, the Request for Proposals (RFP) asks for critical capabilities that can help a company sift through the myriad of options available and narrow them down to the few that make sense for their specific needs. Relevant experience always matters, as does specific industry knowledge, followed by creativity, a sense of a “safe choice” based on an agency’s reputation within the PR industry and, of course, actual public relations skill.

who what where 300x199 Why Are Companies Not Valuing Judgment As A Critical ElementBut in my many years as a PR professional, I have noted that there is one critical component that is largely overlooked.  Little consideration is given to the matter of judgment, as in critical judgment,  and “poor” or “sound” judgment. This can be a greater differentiator than all others.

Critical Thought, a Prelude to Sound Judgment

“Sound” judgment is the capacity to assess situations and circumstances shrewdly and to draw appropriate conclusions. Or perhaps it’s the process of forming an evaluation by discerning and comparing the options at hand and then forming an opinion objectively and wisely. In either case, corporations would do well to take note and cleverly try to divine the individual and collective wisdom of each agency as part of their decision-making process.

Why Judgment is Left Behind

For one thing, I can surmise from the numerous entry level employee interviews in which I have participated, that critical thinking courses have largely been absent from most university PR curriculums for the better part of a decade. Thus it seems that the very people that are today putting together the RFPs, often are the ones that have had no training in critical thought.  Nor is it on their radar.

Also, sound judgment is largely evident in hindsight, when the die has already been cast, and the results delivered (or not). As such, it is difficult to forecast any agency’s collective judgment capabilities. Even if one checked out agency successes and what roads were taken on behalf of other clients to achieve those successes, it would not tell the whole ‘story.’  Judgments are made on a case-by-case basis and circumstances surrounding each can affect that judgment. Past successes are therefore not necessarily good indicators as to sound judgment.

We know good or bad judgment when we see it, but it remains hard to predict. The obvious examples are the good judgment shown by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who safely landed a plane full of passengers on the Hudson River, and the bad judgment shown by Tony Hayward, ex-CEO of BP in taking a defensive stance when addressing an outraged public.

Judgment and Wisdom Are Not the Same

A column by The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan entitled Youth Has Outlived Its Usefulness, focused on good judgment. The premise is that it takes a “wizened older generation” with a broad scale of knowledge and experience to form good judgment.  I disagree. Good judgment is not based only on the sum of one’s experiences. It is not age-related to have the capacity to assess situations or circumstances and draw sound conclusions or to have a “good sense” for perceiving and distinguishing relationships or discerning situations that will affect an outcome.

Most agencies worth the name on their door have the capabilities and skills to develop and implement the gamut of online and offline communication tactics. But “sound” judgment needs to back up every tactical path taken – and not just when a company is in a crisis mode.  For example, an agency’s collective judgment plays a critical role in the choosing of what to say, how to say it, and to whom or when, and through what format, or when managing sensitive community relations, or in selecting a strategic partnership tie-in or when taking an extra-calculated risk to achieve desired outcomes. This is true not just of PR agencies, but of all professional service providers.

Companies Should Put Judgment to the Test

RFPs should be written so that they put an agency’s collective judgment to the test.  This might include:

  • Giving agencies real company scenarios of issues at hand and asking each agency for their evaluation of differing options
  • Asking agencies to identify challenges they might encounter and how they would meet them
  • Requiring agencies to describe their decision making and judgment process and rationale

If these questions were included in RFPs, companies would gain a comparative sense of critical thinking and realize that judgment – not execution skills – is the differentiating component that drives tactical successes and agency value.

Donald Trump gets it right on The Apprentice, when he demands critical thinking on the spot.  Corporate America should take note…

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if businesses don’t value judgment because they don’t really understand the full scope of PR. How often does an exec say “Argh, our competition is getting a lot of ink — we need a PR firm!” without fully understanding how an agency can assist beyond traditional media relations? There’s a difference between a client seeking an agency-partner and someone looking for a “vendor.” Companies should go into the RFP process looking for a partner, not an order-taker. Then, I bet they’d be more appreciative of qualities like judgment and critical thinking.

    Heather
    @prTini

    • Npollack

      Totally agree. The question remains however, how we are all going to communicate to the companies the benefits they would get from going that extra mile in their understanding of the critical difference that sound judgment can make — until it becomes the norm.
      Noemi Pollack

  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

    Fantastic point, Heather. I completely agree. Thanks for the smart comment.

  • NancyM

    Yes, absolutely true and probably more so with “instant” communication. (I believe the BP situations was partly culture, but could have been avoided.) This applies not only to PR agencies, but to management consulting as well — too often the potentially negative, unintended consequences of recommendations are overlooked.

  • NancyM

    Yes, absolutely true and probably more so with “instant” communication. (I believe the BP situations was partly culture, but could have been avoided.) This applies not only to PR agencies, but to management consulting as well — too often the potentially negative, unintended consequences of recommendations are overlooked.

  • TP

    In my experience, both at a large, Fortune 500 company and a smaller, privately held company, organizations have moved away from leaders who are capable of making decisions on their own and willing to take responsibility for the consequences. Decisions are made by ‘committee.’ More often than not, that ‘committee’ is compsed of individuals who are not familiar with the organization responsible for the decision and the individuals are not aware of the consequences involved with varions decisions. So, we’ve moved from a society who values judgement as a virtue to a society that places more importance on teambuilding, compromise, and providing feedback to processes and procedures we know little about.

  • http://twitter.com/GrowMap Internet Strategist

    In order to evaluate judgment and critical thinking skills you must possess them yourself – and they are definitely in short supply most places. Few agencies no matter how large are likely to employ a majority of employees talented in that way. More likely they are run by an individual or have a few top people who have these types of skills who make major decisions and hopefully impart their wisdom to their people over time.

    Many would rather hire college graduates who have limited life experience because they are less expensive than pay more for those who are older and wiser and more likely to expect higher compensation.

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