Posted on: December 2, 2022
Having run a PR agency since 1991, I’ve worked with lots and lots of clients. Some have been more successful than others, although I’m proud of the fact that most are happy with our work, and many have been clients for years. Work with enough clients, and you realize what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes, a client not working out can simply be a matter of bad timing. Sometimes, it’s a lack of mutual understanding or poor communication. Fortunately for us, it doesn’t happen often, but some clients just aren’t meant to be. If you’re in the client service business, it’s worth realizing this reality sooner than later: Not every client will work out.
In my experience, the key to a client working out is engagement, engagement and more engagement. I want our clients to be engaged with members of my team, constantly going back and forth on new ideas, secured deliverables and everything in between. Typically, we have a single point of contact (POC) from our agency side and the client has a single POC from their side. From time to time, there may end up being several POCs on the agency side or the client side, but one each is best.
A single POC streamlines the communication process and makes it easier to manage deliverables while stopping too many cooks from entering the kitchen. Of course, the more cooks there are in the kitchen, the more ideas get brought up. But “more” isn’t necessarily conducive to efficient, effective execution. It can slow things down. For example, if a reporter is on deadline, you may need to execute within the hour, and interacting with multiple POCs on the client side can force you to miss that deadline—and miss out on a potential media hit.
Once that single POC has been established, a client needs to remain engaged throughout the process, whatever that process may be. Engagement can never go away. This means responding to emails in a timely manner, reviewing materials like press releases and social media posts that need to be finalized, participating in daily or weekly meetings, returning phone calls as soon as possible, and reporting successes (or failures) as they come up.
When a favorable media hit pops up, the client should be informed right away, especially when you can take credit for it. After all, that’s integral to client satisfaction. Even if a media hit isn’t favorable, the client needs to be updated so the proper next steps can be taken.
The most productive client relationships also require optimal time allocation. Clients cannot keep agencies in the dark, nor should agencies “ghost” their clients and go missing for extended periods of time. From our perspective, PR professionals cannot work in a vacuum. Our job is to develop strategies and tactics on behalf of our clients, but only with the proper guidance. It shouldn’t be up to PR professionals to guess what a client may want or need. That’s for the client to convey clearly.
Long story short, PR agencies produce their best work when the client puts in adequate time and focused effort to engage. Long before we ever develop strategies and tactics for a client, we spend hours and hours just talking to them and listening. Observation may seem insignificant, but it’s extremely important. That’s how we develop our so-called “Marshall Plans,” which outline the ways in which we serve clients. It takes many hours to even start thinking about deliverables. Think of it as a focus group—understanding the person across from you. Without market research, you can never understand the market!
Client engagement is a collaborative effort. It requires buy-in from the agency and the client—no exceptions. The most successful client engagement is really just old-school business: listening, talking and working together to achieve success. Just like dating.
This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in October 2022.