You’ve Been Served: How To Be A PR Client Service Superstar

Working in a PR agency means working with clients and making them happy. Yet not all have the same goals, needs, or expectations. But it’s fair to say that the best PR people, like Liam Neeson, have a particular set of skills that keep the clients coming back year after year. Here are seven indispensible rules to becoming a client service superstar.

7 Ways to Stellar PR Client Service

ABC’s of PR client service

Always Be Creating. Clients pay agencies for ideas. Ideas for messaging, for story angles, data-driven research, strategies, tactics, plans, and activations. There is no autopilot on the PR agency dashboard. The steady drumbeat of coverage that agencies strive for demand new thinking because there won’t always be something newsworthy to talk about. It’s PR’s job to drive conversations and ideas that keep the media interested, but even more importantly, to let your clients know you’re always helping them succeed.

Communicate – early and often

We’re in communications after all, so silence within a relationship is the kiss of death. Constant proactive communication is the key to PR teams never letting the client doubt its commitment. Keep the client informed about the progress of media pitches in progress. Bring that stream of new thoughts and ideas, both large and small. Don’t be bashful about questions. A good rule of thumb is PR pros should email or message every client once a day at absolute minimum. See this earlier post for more on what clients should expect from their PR agency.

PR pros keep it real

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best services PR provides is the ability to spot BS. Clients pay for our expertise and guidance in the world of media relations. That includes being forthright and transparent if a client’s idea may not work, why we feel that way, and what the alternative solutions may be. We’re counselors, and we owe our clients a point of view that’s grounded in experience and good judgment.

Volunteer to help        

This one can be controversial because many agencies worry about “scope creep” and we work to curb constant overservicing to meet a client’s goals. Yet the occasional assistance outside the strict scope of work can do wonders for the client relationship and cement a service-oriented foundation for the long term.

Be responsive

Our informal research shows that while clients can be blown away by top-tier strategic thinking and impressive creativity when they shop around for PR agencies, they most often judge the agency team on simple responsiveness. It’s obvious, but sometimes this basic rule gets lost in the fog of war. Responsiveness means answering emails promptly, making sure that queries are covered on weekends and holidays, and a certain “can-do” attitude, even when things are tricky.

Meet face-to-face

It’s very easy in PR to perceive clients (and vice versa) as mere email addresses or Slack handles that fill our screens day in and day out. A good practice is to schedule regular face-to-face meetings with clients – whether its once a quarter to go over planning initiatives or more often – perhaps in social situations. Grab a drink if the client seems like the type, and prove yourself a presence that exists outside of the email inbox.

A personal touch

Elevating a client relationship past the level of email creates human connection, and seeing each other as people makes client services all the more smooth. Congratulate clients on an award win. Adding a personal touch to the relationship such as a hand written Christmas card or an email about a work anniversary shows that you care, and enforces your position as the top of mind choice for your customers.

Lost in Translation? What a Client Says/What it Really Means

At our New York PR agency, we sometimes wish for some kind of client translation software to confirm that what we heard is what was actually meant. For example, we’re working on a proposal for a prospective client who told us, “don’t work too hard on it, we just want to see some sample ideas.”

Now, what does that really mean? If we offer a single page of “thought-starters,” will that suffice? Or is it like when a hostess says “no gifts” and everyone but you ignores her request and actually brings something?

With that in mind, have a look at some actual client comments and our “translations.”

“I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” What it usually really means is “I have no idea what I want and I probably won’t like what you do.” Seasoned PR pros may also infer, “and I will tear apart everything you ever present.” Try to get more direction, preferably in writing, and proceed with caution.

“I’m just a start-up, I can’t afford much now, but as we grow, we will increase our budgets.” Often said by prospects and clients who are trying to win your sympathy so that you will charge less. But, services have a price. Would they dine in a restaurant and expect to pay less because they’re a newer company?

The close relative of this comment: “We have no budget in mind, you tell us.” This usually translates as we have “no budget,” period, and want some work on the cheap. The smartest move is to set your minimum retainer in a meeting ahead of preparing a detailed proposal so as not to surprise the recipient and take you nowhere.

“My nephew/wife/friend does PR.” This may be a set-up for all kinds of critiques of your work by someone who perhaps did local PR for the PTA (not that there is anything wrong with that) but telling you about this other relationship may act as subterfuge and undermine everything from your fee to your writing and your campaign results.

“I absolutely must have this by 4:00 p.m.” This statement is usually made at 3:00 p.m. by a client with less than perfect planning skills. And if you’re good at your job, the client knows they can count on you again and again to get them out of a jam. This is not a bad thing if it’s occasional and in the spirit of partnership; otherwise, think twice about setting and repeating the precedent.

“Let’s have a short meeting.” The sin of the meandering, unstructured meeting can be be committed by anyone, but you can prevent it! Take smart steps early in the relationship to use an agenda, Outlook calendar and other tools to structure meetings and get the most out of everyone’s time.