Managing clients is a tricky business, especially in public relations, where a single relationship can often compose a significant chunk of an agency’s revenue.
So, what’s a PR pro to do?
In the first comprehensive book of practical advice for early to mid-career PR pros, “How to Succeed in a PR Agency: Real Talk to Grow Your Career & Become Indispensable,” my co-author Kristin Johnson and I reveal the three secrets to get clients to fall in love in with your agency team.
Ready? Below are our gems from our combined 30 years of experience.
- Build rapport
You’re probably thinking this one is obvious, right?
Here’s the thing, building rapport can be difficult if you don’t have a clear sense of your professional self. If you’re not a senior PR pro with a sterling reputation and a long track record, you may try to act “professional” by communicating formally, being overly polite and agreeable, shamelessly sucking-up, and never asking questions. But that doesn’t actually work – clients don’t want a yes-man robot who never challenges their thinking.
To cultivate rapport with your clients be authentic (but always appropriate) in all of your interactions, build trust by setting and fulfilling realistic expectations, be efficient with what little time they can allocate for agency interactions, and provide good counsel.
Even though the client is technically paying you to provide advice, they may not want to hear every thought that pops into your head. It’s a good rule of thumb to always ask clients before serenading them with your opinions – no matter how experienced you are. So why is rapport so important? Without it, you’re just a vendor providing a service, a transaction, but with it you’re a valued partner.
- Act with integrity
In PR there are a lot of grey areas as to what “doing the right thing” looks like.
The best thing for you to do is to act in accordance with your values, agency’s values, client’s values, and the values of our industry. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) statement of professional values include: advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness. More on this here. When in doubt, do not act at all – seek counsel.
Acting with integrity also means owning your errors, never passing blame onto others and not making excuses. If you’ve already built a solid rapport with your client, then you’re going to be a lot less stressed out about discussing mistakes with them, because you know it’s unlikely you’ll lose them over it.
There will inevitably come a point in your career where a client asks you to do something and your gut will tell you it’s wrong, but because it’s for the client you feel like you should do it anyway. Some clients are new themselves and aren’t even aware that what they’re asking for isn’t completely okay. You will earn their respect and trust if you flag that “X” request could be perceived as a violation of “Y” regulation and that it may be best to take “Z” approach instead.
Part of acting with integrity is not getting up on your high horse or moral soapbox and looking down upon others, but rather to do the right thing and gently help others do the same without shaming them in the process.
- Demonstrate commitment
Whether you’re really excited about a client’s account or not, you need to be genuinely committed to doing the best you possibly can anyway.
Quality of thought and work is the most important thing you can do to demonstrate commitment. If you put in the time to know the client’s business inside out, then you’ll be able to be thoughtful whether you’re providing strategic recommendations or executing a tactic. Also, make sure everything you deliver to the client is proofed, data checked, and aligned with their branding guidance in tone, language, and design. Even if you do all the big things right, the little things can quickly undermine a previously harmonious relationship.
In addition to delivering consistent quality – bend over backwards to help your clients – answer urgent calls after hours or invest in teaching their department a skill (i.e. paid social media). If they know you’re in the trenches with them, then they will believe you’re committed to their account and an integral part of their team.
Building rapport, doing the right thing, and demonstrating commitment will create a halo effect around you, your team, and your agency. This aura of positivity is what’s going to help you retain the client long-term, organically grow the business, and encourage clients to forgive an occasional mistake or misunderstanding that may happen along the way.
You may even make a lifelong friend or two – we certainly have.