Maureen Juniper talks Pepsi and PR (Q&A)

December 17, 2013  |  Rebecca Harris  |  Comments

Score one for the independents. Praxis was recently named national public agency of record for PepsiCo Foods Canada after a competitive review. A longstanding partner of the food and beverage giant, Praxis had managed PR for PepsiCo Beverages Canada for more than a decade and for the Quaker brand for eight years. With the win, Praxis now provides PR for the Frito-Lay portfolio and corporate communications for PepsiCo Foods.

Maureen Juniper, co-founder and partner at Praxis, talks to Marketing about the big win and how the independent PR shop competes with the multi-nationals.

Maureen Juniper

What is your approach to winning and retaining clients?
Sometimes we’re going up against large multi-national agencies and in the case of PepsiCo, there was an existing relationship. That certainly helped us because we had established trust with them over all those years. That’s a big part of it. It’s obviously a lot about relationships and trust. And of course, all the things that are important to a client like PepsiCo. We put service first, so they know that they are serviced very well and we’re good collaborators. Ultimately, what clients are looking are big strategic ideas and the ability of their partners to work closely together.

Do you think being an independent agency gives you an edge?
It’s hard to say. Sometimes we think that it might be a disadvantage. Sometimes there’s a perception that small means ‘unable to meet my needs’ if you’re a large corporation or a client with diverse brands… and we’ve run into that. But we’ve been through the PepsiCo process and were thrilled to come out on top against agencies that sometimes [are seen as] offering more resources. Praxis is a smaller but very resourceful shop. We’ve been working hard over the last few years to change things up so that we can deliver at the same level as the larger global firms.

What have you been doing to change things up?
A lot of it has been in the talent that we’ve been retaining. In previous years, all of us in the PR industry were looking for the same types of people and skills, and the pool was relatively small. Now with the emphasis on content, digital and social, we have had to rethink that and make sure we are bringing those services into the firm. It’s been a slow and steady build with us. We’re hiring folks who come from digital shops and who have paid advertising in their background. That’s helping to round out the services we provide and also make us content experts. We’re building that both from within as well as in our recruitment strategy.

How does Praxis find new business?
Primarily word of mouth. We’ve always been big believers that if you do good work for one client they will tell another and that really has been our experience. We do get invited to participate in RFPs, so we do that as part of our new business strategy. Increasingly, we are defining the industry sectors and clients that are of interest to us going after them. So that might be cold calling in some cases, but primarily through contacts that we’ve built.

A lot of smaller agencies don’t participate in RFPs because they don’t have the resources. Is that a challenge for Praxis as well?
I don’t know for us if it’s a question of resources as much as it is efficiency. There’s a lot involved in an RFP and the selection of an agency through an RFP. Whether you’re large, small or in-between, you don’t know what your odds of winning really are. From strictly an efficiency point of view, we want to go after things that we have our best shot of winning.

Praxis rebranded two years ago, including dropping “PR” from the agency’s name. Do you still have to communicate to potential clients that Praxis offers more than just traditional PR?
Yes, but I think the marketing communications side of the business understands that well. Social media is a good example. In the earlier years of social media, the advertising industry was quite successful at scooping up a lot of [the business]. And now that we’ve all lived through the last four or five years, there seems to be a realization that social media may belong more appropriately in public relations. We have been about reputation management and storytelling since the get go. Because there have been so many examples of campaigns that have gone off the rails, more clients are thinking more carefully about [reputation management]. They want to make sure that while the marketing engine is moving along, they’re thinking through the issues side of social media and that they’ve got the company’s reputation covered as well.

Is a similar thing happening with content marketing? Are ad agencies and PR firms now both trying to scoop up that business?
A little bit. But there is a recognition that the basic skill set that traditional PR people come to the table with is well suited to content. There’s still a little bit of healthy tension between the different types of agencies, but it’s becoming clearer that public relations is a great way to house that kind of programming.

What do you think the next big change will be for PR?
The future is coming so fast that it’s almost impossible to see that. I do think that content for the next year is going to be extremely important to brands and to companies. That’s not new, but I think it’s going to continue to be one of the most important service offerings that public relations companies will be offering.

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