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Five Tips For Managing Tricky Clients

Working at a tech PR agency, we’re accustomed to collaborating with many different types of companies. Some are familiar with the ins and outs of public relations, while others are new to PR and rely on our guidance. We’re lucky to have clients who are respectful, professional, and even fun as partners. But as every agency or in-house PR person knows, there can be bumps in any relationship. The good news is that many problems can be avoided with a strong onboarding process at the outset. It sets the cadence of communications for the engagement, and, more importantly, the expectations for deliverables and impact.

But what if you still sense problems? Red flags in a client relationship can include unrealistic timelines or expectations for earned media; excessive emails or calls outside of regular work hours, or unusual demands that fall outside the scope of work.

If a client is unreasonable, unprincipled, or abusive, that should be addressed and the relationship ended before it can affect team morale. But for ordinary adjustment problems, there are solutions.

Double down on communications 

Communication is the best way to show that you’re engaged and committed to the relationship and its goals. When in doubt, be proactive — ask for clarification, anticipate the response, and push back gently when necessary. Most clients value PR teams who take initiative, especially when it comes to addressing concerns or miscommunication. No matter how you slice it, there’s no such thing as too much communication in a client relationship.

Ramp up media opportunities 

Has your media coverage slipped from the standards set at the beginning of the engagement? We all create PR plans with pitch ideas to help generate a drumbeat of consistent media interest, but there are times when pitches don’t resonate for one reason or another. That’s when it makes sense to deviate from the plan and shake things up a little. It can also help to tap tools and services such as ProfNet, HARO and Qwoted, capitalizing on low-hanging fruit or offering reactive commentary on current events to journalists. Along the same lines, take a look at this post on getting a fast start for your media relations program. “Quick wins” are a great way to set up a relationship for success.

Showcase your thinking

On our weekly PR touch-base meetings, we generally go through an agenda with all in-progress and upcoming items and initiatives. While that’s a critical part of any PR program, it’s a good idea to show the thinking behind the tactics. The easiest way to do this is to explain the rationale behind a pitch, offer color on a reporter’s needs or a background discussion, or share high-level observations on strategy. You can also slot in time for casual brainstorming. When they see you’ve “done your homework” and that you know what you’re talking about, any client will feel confident in your relationship moving forward.

Triple-check the small things

As PR professionals, one of our strongest qualities is an eye for details. But since we’re often juggling many things at once, it’s tempting to rush through tasks just to check them off the list. This can lead to sloppy emails or careless mistakes in documents like agendas or recap reports. Punctuality, consistency and attention to detail will help inspire confidence by clients who may be unhappy or needy by nature.

Understand their world

Internal PR officers have the advantage here, because they’re naturally more integrated into the business of their “clients.” Agency teams, on the other hand, have a tendency to be narcissistic. We sometimes personalize client feedback because we fail to understand the broad scope of their responsibilities and business pressures. Remember, it’s not always about you. Every good PR crew should commit to a deep dive into their client’s business, show curiosity, track business trends and understand the bigger picture.

If a client seems unhappy, there is usually a reason for it and there is almost always a way to right the ship. Keeping these suggestions in mind can help build stable relationships and ensure that all parties work together harmoniously.

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