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.

Five Things Clients Should Never Do To Their PR Agencies

When a client retains a PR firm, it is with the best of intentions. The company has an important business story to tell, a new consumer product launch or an issues battle to win. But often, good intentions are thwarted when the rubber meets the road. Perspectives change, personality traits come to fore and soon both parties are strategizing to keep the relationship productive and successful. Here are five things clients should think about NOT doing to help foster and preserve the successful client-agency relationship.

Set aside an unrealistic budget for PR

Public relations should never be an afterthought. It’s not productive to think we can “carve out a little money” for a few months of PR. Successful, change and results-driven strategic PR requires the same thoughtful process and budgeting that any other marketing discipline does within an organization. In a situation when a PR relationship is working well and the agency is told, “we have to cut PR,” all that wonderful media momentum stops and reputation-building efforts go back to zero. Something to think about when creating a smart marketing budget.

Contact reporters without informing your agency

Please don’t reach out to reporters directly or send out media pitches without informing your agency. Turn over media requests for the agency to vet first. With rare exception (a contact is an old friend, etc.) clients who talk to the press sans PR guidance can find themselves answering questions they’d rather not or submitting to interviews that miss the audience entirely.

Expand the scope of work, but not the fee

Frankly, this is an agency issue as well. The documents which guide the account (proposal, plan, LOA) should always clearly delineate what is covered by the retainer or project fee. When in doubt, refer to these to keep both parties on track. It behooves everyone to increase work and accomplish more as long as compensation matches expectation!

Keep your concerns to yourself

It’s counterproductive to do a slow burn about an agency issue and inform no one! Most agency-clients concerns can be nipped in the bud and fixed if addressed early enough.

Position anyone NOT in communications or marketing to manage the PR relationship

It happens with smaller or less experienced clients that anyone from CEO to COO and various other titles will manage the PR relationship. This can often lead to misunderstandings about the role and fits and starts with projects. It is helpful to speak the same language when translating marketing goals into PR initiatives.

Five Timeless PR Tips For A Successful Grand Opening

By guest blogger Alexandra Scott

Ready to open the doors for a client’s new venture? Congratulations! Make sure to incorporate these top PR tips into your master plan.

Know your media. Which media sources should you contact? Start “hyper-local” (think Patches, community papers etc.) Determine if your story has longer “legs” – is your company spokesperson well known in the area? Can his/her local media, alumni, religious institution or other community media be tapped for interest as well? Never forget about bloggers. “Slice and dice” your story to as wide an audience as you can.

Perfect your pitch. At the beginning of your pitch, come up with a way to grab your contact’s interest. Just because your client is opening a new store or other facility is not necessarily news. Does the opening mean new jobs? Is the construction unique in some way? Think visually, and use social sharing to get the word out. Write Facebook posts, post tweets, take pictures and videos!

Stake out all the “what-ifs”. Draft a list of “what-ifs” to help inform your PR plan – allow for latecomers, weather contingencies (plan a rain date if applicable) and breaking news. Every PR person’s nightmare is the huge unexpected story that takes all your press away! Be sure to prep the aforementioned photos and video to help get your story out to the media asap if they can’t get to you.

Incorporate a “wow” factor. A “wow” factor is part of the Grand Opening that will draw in the public. Some ideas to consider: Is a celebrity or key local notable a possible attendee and strategically a sound idea? Is there a famed local chef who can add some culinary color to the day or an unexpected free offer your client can make? Look for the unusual or over-the-top, just make sure they fit your client personality and the objectives of the opening.

The Grand Opening is only the beginning. The things you do after your Grand Opening are just as important as the event itself. So, follow-up is critical. Also, create a post-event press release. It should highlight the Grand Opening and provide a recap, including the number of attendees, names of legislators/dignitaries that attended and photos. At this point, plan an ongoing calendar of events to keep interest.

Your Grand Opening is just the first step to draw in the public and potential customers and the start of many future events to come.

5 Ways PR Firms Can Set Client Expectations

Like personal relationships, PR agency-client unions can sputter or fail for any number of reasons. But it typically comes down to one key issue: the gap between expectations and reality. Often both parties rush ahead, eager to start reaping the benefits of the relationship, but without syncing their individual definitions of success. Here are some simple ways to set expectations and head off problems before the LOA is signed.

Ask. Then ask again

In our business, most clients will talk about goals like “visibility” or “thought leadership,” but those objectives are very general and open to interpretation. Push your client to be specific. “What does success look like?” “Where would you like to be a year from now as a result of your PR partnership?” “What have your ‘home run’ campaigns been, and why?” “What will have changed as a result of this investment?” These are all different ways of getting at the same answer and achieving a greater degree of specificity.

Make the agency needs clear upfront

It’s better not to wait until after the agreement is signed to spell out the agency’s needs and expectations. Many startup companies, for example, fail to understand the time and resources an agency relationship requires on their end. A candid discussion will help open their eyes and vet those who are unrealistic about the commitment.

Don’t oversell

Sure, it’s easier said than done, and no one wants to underpromise in a competitive situation, but credibility is also a selling tool, particularly with an experienced client. A couple of years ago I asked a client why we won a challenging reputation assignment against an eclectic field of large and well-resourced agencies. His answer? “You were the only one who told the truth.”

Separate service levels from goals

On a day-to-day level, clients may value responsiveness and efficiency above all else, and it’s natural for the agency team to be lulled by its ability to meet challenging tactical demands in the heat of battle. But even though service quality is critical, it doesn’t hold up in a senior management evaluation where outcomes are key.

Revisit expectations periodically

A formal review is terrific, but even a spontaneous check-in can suffice to determine if objectives are being met. Too often, business and communications goals change, or “mission creep” starts to dilute more important long-term goals. An early course correction will keep a relationship from veering off into dangerous territory.

The Key to Good PR Is Persuasion

Make no mistake. . .persuasion is an art form!

As public relations professionals, we understand the vital importance persuasion plays in almost everything we do i.e. dealing with media, influencers, opinion leaders or just about any third-party “endorsers.” It’s THE key factor in our being successful.

That said, there’s another area where we could spend more time and planning to be persuasive. That’s making sure that clients take our best advice and counsel. It’s easy to assume that we’ve been hired for that very reason. But it doesn’t always happen that way; company politics, distractions, and poor relationships can subvert even the best PR counsel. A couple of quick tips on being persuasive:

Always advise from the POV of the client’s best interests. Make the client feel you’re on the same side of the table. Don’t bring your interests or abilities into the mix; at the end of the day, you’ve been retained and are being paid to think about their needs.

Make sure you look at the big picture through their eyes, but retain your objectivity. And let them know you’re doing just that. Part of an agency’s value is the perspective we bring; chances are we’ve been down the same or similar road with other clients; we have our ears to the ground when it comes to influencer and media opinion; and we’re not as swayed by internal politics or history.

Listen first. You can only apply your expertise in meaningful ways and be perceived as a valuable resource when you’ve really heard what the client is saying. It’s much easier to be persuasive when you demonstrate that you’ve paid attention, even to the smallest detail. So, before you opine, listen and ask questions. Then listen some more.

Build a case. When pitching clients, we present and prioritize objectives. When we pitch media or any third-party endorsers, we organize our persuasive messages and key points to put our best foot forward. Do the same in persuading clients to follow your best advice and counsel.

12 Days Of Christmas (or holiday of your choice) PR Edition

Fellow PR practitioners, clients, and media, it’s time to revisit the famous gifts from the “12 Days of Christmas” song. Here’s this year’s “ripped from the headlines” spin on the evergreen list.

Twelve drummers drumming. An awesome gift this year, when at least twelve top drummers from Charlie Watts to Max Weinberg gathered on 12.12.12 for the concert to benefit Superstorm Sandy survivors.

Eleven pipers piping: Not quite 11 states where you can legally pipe “pot” but marijuana did become legal in Colorado, Washington and New Jersey. Counting California, definitely a trend.

Ten lords a-leaping: The lords are leaping in London, trying to stay ahead of social media. It seems the UK’s House of Lords has summoned senior figures from Facebook and Google in their ongoing investigation into media convergence, media power and how it might be regulated in the future.

Nine ladies dancing: Many more than nine ladies (and men and kids and YouTube cats) were entranced by this year’s dance craze, — “Gangnam Style” — the most viewed video on YouTube. Note to self: How can we “borrow” for clients?

Eight maids a-milking: A statistic sure to make Mayor Bloomberg a little sad, cow’s milk consumption is down this year, trailing soda (and beer and bottled water, too.) I feel a Dairy Board RFP coming our way.

Seven swans a-swimming: As long as they’re not “black swans.” We in PR love new phraseology to have “pun” with, but this term, emerging after Superstorm Sandy, is downright scary. It means “a surprise event with a huge impact that can’t reasonably be anticipated based on historic records.”

Six geese a-laying: All we really want to know here – are any of them laying the proverbial Golden Egg, and can it save us from the (proverbial) Fiscal Cliff?

Five golden rings: A perennial favorite – contemplating why awful jewelry commercials fill the airwaves this time of year? Can’t the PR firms for Jared, Pandora and Kay help influence the scary bad creative for their clients?

Four calling birds: Maybe the calling birds can call the Angry Birds and create a new game!

Three French hens: Wisdom from French hens (women) have dominated book publishing this year, from staying thin to raising children. Here’s the latest advice on living la vie en rose, demonstrating that some trends have real staying power.

Two turtle doves: For centuries doves have symbolized peace, and they’ve long been a part of Christmas and weddings. But the association we like best is the brilliant PR campaign that’s still going, but always morphing, the Dove Soap Real Beauty initiative, recently highlighted for its creativity here.

And a partridge in a pear tree! As it turns out, partridges may alight on pear trees (likely for holiday photo opps), but they don’t actually live there. However, if you Google this, you will get upwards of 600,000 results, which I imagine other PR pros are trying to spin into something this time of year as well.


Matchmaking In The Office (It’s Not What You Think!)

Some of the most complicated and thoughtful decisions a PR agency head must make involve staffing a new or transitioning account. There is truly an element of matchmaking involved to ensure the personalities mesh well and the relationship is productive. Sometimes, missteps occur and a strategic course correction is in order, but here are a few client/agency scenarios to ponder which may help mitigate mismatches.

The High-Octane Client
The first (and often best) instinct is to assign a very calm, unflappable account person to balance this type AAA hyper client. Someone to remain focused in crises and keep this wild card client off “the ledge.” But you don’t want an account person who is too quiet – don’t confuse calm with comatose!

The Unsure, Insecure Client
This is tricky – you want to match this client with someone caring and nurturing and smart. I would think hard before assigning them an “opposites attract” type as that could be threatening and backfire. The account leader for this client should strike a perfect balance between assertive and nurturing.

The Know-it-all Client
Experience says it almost doesn’t matter the personality of this client’s agency contact – they just need to be supportive yet unafraid to suggest opinions and offer alternative views. No client, not even an egomaniac, wants someone who agrees with every word they say (do they?)

The Threatened Client
The match for this endangered client is someone with very good people-reading skills. This person must be chameleon-like in their ability to go this way and that depending on their client’s standing within the company on a given day. They must have good listening and reporting skills so those in charge at the agency can “read the tea leaves” and make adjustments.

What sage wisdom can you offer on successful client/agency relationships?