Credo 1. AR should be co-operative

Over the weeks since Gartner’s Symposium we’ve been comparing some of the conclusions from our IDEAL Audits, which allow AR managers to see the strengths and weaknesses of their AR activities. We’ve developed a Credo as a result; a list of core principles that we feel AR professionals should subscribe to.

The first is the notion that AR should be cooperative, and not be adversarial. I’ll be summarising this idea today, and nine further propositions over the next weeks, and then expanding them into a white paper with the help of your comments, emails and suggestions. We’ve also added a Credo tag to help you see the whole series as it grows.

But why is co-operation the starting point?

A co-operative standpoint on the part of the communications professional is essential for effective AR. Analysts expect to be treated as peers, if not superiors, by analyst relations professionals. Whether or not their personal self-evaluation matches that of the AR manager, an air of candid discussion, mutual exchange of information and mutual respect is optimal for developing real rapport with analysts.

This point is fundamental: it underpins many of the later points in our credo, especially because co-operation helps AR to meet analysts’ needs and reflects the concerted, extensive and long-term nature of the best analyst relations strategies.

These points are even stronger amongst US analysts, because of the trend towards recession AR. Effective AR managers must now focus on assisting the successful progress of key analysts towards the analysts’ personal goals, and not just to assisting with the transactional movement of information from vendor to analyst.

The lack of co-operation is most striking with some analyst relations programmes whose focus might be called ‘AR for PR’, but certainly not all. The task of these AR programmes is often felt to be the optimisation of written comment. That traditionally means reducing the negative volume and increasing the positive. However, it often leads to rather adversarial interactions after disagreements when analysts are prepared to write negative comments about vendors.

Our experiences shows that negative comments by analysts need to be dealt with increasing care and calm by vendors. Generally, analysts are writing research that is more neutral. That often reflects increased peer review processes, even at firms like Yankee which were previously more opinionated, and increased pace of work for analysts: with less time, they are more likely to avoid the time-consuming interactions with vendors who may be unhappy with part of the analyst’s written evaluation.

However, this tendency towards greater neutrality means that when negative comments appear they are more considered and harder to shift or force underground. Therefore an adversarial standpoint is less likely to pressure the analyst into retracting their opinion. Furthermore, the increasing impact of spoken interactions also has to be considered. If a vendor pressures and analyst to retract a negative statement without convincing the analyst to change their mind, then that analyst will become more critical of the firm in spoken interactions. That will happen:

  • first because the analyst will feel the need to express the key points not present in the document;
  • second because they will want to reassert their own value and self-confidence against the vendor; and
  • third because an adversarial reaction by the vendor often suggests to the analyst that she or he has hit a sensitive point, and not that they are off beam.

Adversarial approaches often push the analysts’ concerns about vendors underground, where they are harder to counter. Many analysts disdain to share their concerns with those vendors who are not able to deal with disagreement in a collegial way. These adversarial vendors therefore start to sense negative feedback only through rumour and hearsay, which can develop a certain tendency towards paranoia.

Our surveys of analysts show us that the most effective AR programmes (those that are most likely to result in vendors being recommended by influential analysts) are those that are most candid.

Of course, that is not only because of the easier flow of information and more positive relationships, but also because AR reflects the corporate brand. If the analyst feels that the vendor’s AR team approach is adversarial, abuse of power and aims to suppress problems then the analyst will place those same negative values on the supplier the AR manager works for. Perhaps some vendors celebrate confrontational cultures; the others will be able to benefit from the greater opportunity to build rapport.

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