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PR & AD AGENCIES - INTRODUCING CERTIFICATES OF QUALITY IS ONE WAY TO POINT THE SECTOR IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

PR group presses quality button

IN AN EFFORT to comply with international quality standards set by a powerful umbrella organization for public relations firms, the trade association for PR agencies in Slovakia, APRSR, promised that all of its members would obtain "certificates of quality" by the end of 2005.

IN AN EFFORT to comply with international quality standards set by a powerful umbrella organization for public relations firms, the trade association for PR agencies in Slovakia, APRSR, promised that all of its members would obtain "certificates of quality" by the end of 2005.

The APRSR expects that its members will have their practices confirmed according to Consultancy Management Standard (CMS) in line with the global trend toward certification.

So far, Interel Public Relations, an agency in Bratislava, is the only firm to have received certification. Besides earning its CMS, Interel went one step further and obtained an additional quality certificate, ISO 9001.

Michaela Benedigová is managing director of Interel as well as the president of APRSR. Benedigová spoke with The Slovak Spectator about the certification process. She explains the motives behind it, why she believes it is important, and what certification entails.

Although few APRSR members will obtain certificates of quality by the close of 2005, Benedigová is confident that most members will have received certification by July of next year.


The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Why did you decide to acquire a certificate of quality? And why two?

Michaela Benedigová (MB): Quality certificates are not just a Slovak issue. APRSR is a member of a global organization, the ICCO [International Communications Consultancy Organisation], and the ICCO decided that all of its member associations should get certified by January 2006. (The APRSR is a member of the ICCO - ed. Note.)

In fact, standardizing quality is a reaction to the challenges that PR businesses face worldwide. Companies in this sector have a hard time conforming to non-uniform standards, which then impacts clients' opinion of public relations.

I am not satisfied with the reputation of the PR industry, for example. Sometimes I really feel it personally. But I also know that I am able to conduct my company in a way that encourages trust, and this way I can become an example for other PR companies in the market. This is how I can help external audiences regain a good opinion of public relations firms.


TSS: It has been one year since your agency acquired a quality certificate. Have you noticed any tangible impact on your agency's work?

MB: In the process of acquiring certification, we revised all of our internal and customer-facing workflow procedures. We had to describe all of our business processes in detail, and by doing so, we were able to thoroughly assess their efficiency.

The outcome was that we identified procedures that worked and those that needed improvement.

Procedures that we had been doing correctly, let's say by intuition, have became an inseparable part of our work. Certification really proved their worth and we have confidence that these processes are right for us.

On the other hand, certification also revealed our weaknesses, especially in areas unrelated to the agency's core business, such as IT. Today we have much stricter regulations around data security, and we have an offsite crisis management plan in place in case our systems crash.

After one year of certification under our belts, I see the main benefit as a boost in how we perceive ourselves. We are proud to be leading the market in terms of quality.


TSS: Does certification help when it comes to attracting clients?

MB: I think clients want to work with professionals. So far, however, no one has indicated that possession of a certificate is a basic requirement for cooperation. I hope that we will get to this stage.


TSS: How long does certification take?

MB: It takes several months. We decided in March 2004 that we wanted to obtain certification. We went through our first consultation before summer and were certified in November of the same year. We took the whole process very seriously. We considered it a managerial challenge, examining our business processes and paying a great deal of attention to financial indicators. What affected profitability? How did it relate to project management? We compared the overall effectiveness of our projects to our initial goals. We identified the types of projects that benefited the company. Thus we were able to form our company vision and determine the services that we should develop.


TSS: What costs are associated with certification, both from a financial and time investment standpoint?

MB: The financial costs were not that high. Including consultations, it was not more than Sk180,000 (€4,640). Concerning other, internal costs, certification requires an enormous investment. I would like to point out that our best people were the process. But it paid off.

The most important thing is to take a flexible approach. For example, one of our internal processes requires that we report regularly on certain activities. First we initiated a monthly reporting process. However, after some time we discovered that reporting monthly was unsuitable. Now we do it quarterly and we are content.


TSS: According to ICCO, APRSR also promised that all of its members would be certified by year-end 2005. Has any other Slovak PR agency obtained a quality certificate?

MB: So far as I know, not yet. But several agencies have asked for initial consultations. The association probably will not meet the deadline for certifying its members, but they do realize the commitment. Perhaps they will fulfil the criteria by the middle of next year.


TSS: How would you compare the quality of PR companies in Slovakia to those in the EU-15? Is the market potential in Slovakia fully utilized?

MB: I think international clients are able to find the same standard of PR services in Slovakia as in, let's say London, but at lower prices.

Of course, international clients have been the core business of PR companies in Slovakia for a long time. Currently, Slovak firms are also starting to realize the importance of hiring professional communications companies.

I see the main potential for PR companies not in handling communications with media but in managing overall reputation and internal communications. Human resources, employee engagement - it turns out that it is important to have positive contact with employees in each stage of a company's development to support transformation, the introduction of new technology, and almost all other aspects of business.


Consultancy Management Standard

THE CONSULTANCY Management Standard (CMS) combines elements of ISO 9000 and Investors in People (which sets quality standards for improving an organization's performance through its people) with criteria specific to public relations companies.

The CMS is the ICCO's (International Communications Consultancy Organisation) international standard for certification of communications and public relations consultancies. It has been adapted for international use from the UK trade association, the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), which introduced it in 1997.

The CMS comprises an audit of eight key business areas. To attain the standard agencies must achieve a mark of 50 percent in each area. These comprise almost every aspect of how a consultancy is run: Leadership and communications; business planning; business improvement; financial systems; campaign management; client satisfaction; new business and people management.


Source: Association of PR agencies in the Slovak Republic, www.iccopr.com

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