Eighty-five percent of agencies say they do a good job of setting client expectations during the sales process, yet 77% say they have difficulty during the relationship. Where does the disparity come from, and how can agencies correct it?
The stat above is from a survey of ad agencies, but mismanaged expectations can happen in public relations, digital marketing, or other creative services. If anything, PR firms and their clients may be more prone to an expectations gap, because PR isn’t always well understood.
With that in mind, here are some ways for PR teams to set expectations with clients and maintain a healthy, long-term relationship.
Well before the LOA (Letter of Agency) is signed, it’s best to be straight with the client. This applies not only to outcomes, but to expectations about service and frequency of communication. Teams should be precise about how and when the client will receive deliverables, the team’s work process, and cadence. It’s up to the agencies to offer a roadmap for the work and educate their clients on how their expectations will be met. A new client may want top-tier earned media coverage right off the bat, and it may be achievable if the business has a good enough story. Often, however, PR professionals are tasked with building a foundation that opens doors for A-list coverage down the road. If it’s a marathon, not a sprint to the finish, then say so.
Nothing in PR is guaranteed and clients should be aware of this from day one of a partnership. Promising a certain amount of coverage can put immense pressure on the agency and setting the proper expectations is important not only for the client’s success, but for the sanity of the agency team. PR is an overall qualitative field of work, with the goal of supporting business by expanding the client’s share of voice and improving company recognition. Counting hits is one way to measure, but context matters. A mad shuffle to secure as many articles as possible (as in pay-for-placement arrangements) may not always help the client, because quality varies. What we’re after is impact. Aligning client and agency on both deliverables and goals will set the bar for a long lasting relationship.
Some clients require constant attention, while others think the agency team can run without their involvement. Neither is a sign of a healthy relationship. Establishing how the agency will communicate and coordinate opportunities with the client must be set early in the engagement so everyone knows how the relationship will work. Setting boundaries is a key factor as well, particularly when it comes to emails. Are weekends okay, or only in an emergency? What about texting? Does the client expect a response within minutes or hours? Set the protocols early so everyone knows what’s reasonable.
PR is very collaborativ,e and agencies can only do so much without a client’s involvement. Things like reactive commentary, schedules, media assets and data must be accessible to the agency team, and it’s essential that the client contact understands what’s needed from them so that members of the agency team don’t spin their wheels.
As time goes on, the client’s requirements may change. In their eager to please, an agency team may start to perform tasks outside the strict scope of their brief, and the client may take it for granted. Or, if the agency is exceeding expectations for results month after month, that’s fantastic for all involved, but it sets the bar higher than at the campaign’s start. It’s up to the agency to course-correct if the original proposal isn’t being honored, or to propose changes to its scope and role where warranted.