PR agencies may enjoy a honeymoon with clients after they win their business. After a couple years, or even a few months, the relationship often deteriorates. Steady performance erodes into boredom, then impatience, discontent, blame and finally dissolution of the relationship.
“What does it take to break a cycle of “from glee to flee?” asks John J. Seng, founder and chair of Spectrum Science Communications. These are some answers:
Commit wholly to the relationship. Like a marriage, an agency-client relationship needs on-going attention, Seng asserts. Meeting the commitment will prevent taking your partner for granted and keep their concerns top of mind. Put the “marriage vows” in writing. “Make the commitment, and honor and defend it, particularly if and when your management attempts to make you cut corners,” he urges
Set reasonable expectations – from the get-go. Failure to meet expectations may be one of the most common causes of rough relationships between PR agencies and their clients. The issue is most likely unreasonable expectations rather than agency shortcomings. Establishing what the PR agency can and cannot accomplish at the start of the relationship is the best way to preempt clients with obviously unrealistic expectations. Have an honest conversation about strategies and outcomes. Determine the client’s objectives and reach an agreement on what you were hired to do and how you’ll measure PR results.
Communicate regularly. Frequent communication helps keep clients happy. “A client should never have to follow up with you for information or an update – if they do, you’ve failed in your job as their PR rep,” writes Rebekah Epstein, founder of fifteen media, in PR Couture. Define and then stick to the communications plan, whether you share information daily or weekly, through email, phone calls or face-to-face meetings. Technology tools like videoconference and messaging apps are more valuable than ever, as many agency-client relationships are now remote. Tools and technology offer a great degree of automation but should not replace standard types of communication.
Act confidently. Without sounding arrogant, assure them that you are the expert and know what you are doing. Some clients are not so much unreasonable as they are ignorant about PR. That’s why they hired you. Confidence is crucial to winning a client’s respect.
Tolerate impolite behavior. Avoid arguing, making negative comments or blaming your client for the discord, says PR expert Rachael Hesling. Don’t take the client’s behavior personally. Rude behavior may be due to an underlying issue, perhaps unrelated to PR activities. Strive to uncover any underlying issues. Ask probing questions to reveal the actual issue behind the complaining. If the problem is about you, honestly assess your efforts.
Say no when necessary — tactfully. Be prepared to decline unreasonable requests. As the saying goes, you can’t please everyone all the time. Agreeing to fulfill an ill-advised request could damage your reputation and relationship with the media. If a client wants a press conference without news to announce or asks to review a reporter’s story before publication, firmly and patiently explain the PR realities. Client ignorance is common in any professional business service. The key is to patiently educate clients about realistic PR goals and proper practices — in a friendly, non-derogatory way that produces better understanding.
Employ comprehensive news and social media monitoring. Comprehensive social media monitoring combined with online news monitoring offers one of the surest ways to please clients. Research shows that social media monitoring is a critical PR service. Social media monitoring tools have become more advanced and easier to use, with intuitive online dashboards that integrate data from all media sources.
Business executives consider social media monitoring one of the most important services PR agencies offer, after only earned media services, according to the PR Customer Experience Benchmark Report from Researchscape International. In addition, social media listening is one of the top public relations trends, according to the Evolution of Public Relations report from the Association of National Advertisers.
Prove value through PR measurement. Advanced PR analytics services, often combined with web analytics, SEO results and market surveys, can show that the PR agency met its goals.
Provide tailored solutions. Clients adore tailored and creative solutions that meet their specific business needs, not a one-size-fits-all, humdrum approach. That calls for understanding a client’s industry, its business and its goals. “Agencies that strive to understand that every client is unique will have a better chance of gaining trust and confidence, and help each client feel like their agency is an extended part of their team, asserts Matt Bowman, president of Thrive Internet Marketing Agency, in Forbes.
Strive for continuous improvement. Agencies please clients by using PR measurement to determine what’s effective and what needs improvement. “Clients deserve ongoing results, continual improvement and consistent value,” Bowman says. “When an agency operates with these principles, showing measured efforts to their clients and striving to not only achieve but maintain trust with clients, the stage can be set for success with great reviews, referrals and customer retention.”
Bottom Line: PR agency relationships with clients can deteriorate over time. A written commitment to maintain the relationship, comprehensive media monitoring and measurement that proves results, and continuously striving for improvement can keep clients happy.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.