PR veteran Arthur Solomon’s recent post about challenging basic public relations “rules” and other industry tenets really struck a chord with me. The most insightful point may have been this one: “Good work is not a sure way of receiving client approval. The best way to ensure a good review is to make the client look good.”
Insightful, because doing good work and making the client look good are both desirable, but they are not necessarily one and the same. Here’s my best advice for achieving one through the other.
Don’t be selfish. Selfish thinking is really short-term thinking. Agency professionals are trained to grow accounts and always have an eye out for additional assignments within the company. That’s natural, but there are times when the obligation to offer honest counsel may conflict with the agency goals of growth and profitability. A good long-term rule is to ask yourself what is truly best for the client. Nine times out of ten, that’s also what’s best for the long-term agency relationship.
Solve problems. There are always pain points that may fall outside the agency’s scope of work. Offering solutions, particularly when they relate to navigating corporate politics or enhancing the stature of corporate communications within the organization, are natural ways to get your client promoted. And isn’t that every PR person’s goal?
But don’t be a yes-person. No client worth his mettle wants an order-taker. The client’s role, and by extension ours, is to help the organization engage key constituencies and enable management make smart decisions, not drink the corporate Kool-Aid.
Represent the client well within the organization. Every agency professional knows to be respectful of our client contact when engaging throughout the company, but we can go further and act as ambassadors for the internal communications department as a strategic business function.
Be a source of intelligence. The best among us work hard to offer insights from new research, from our conversations with key journalists, bloggers, and influencers, or from competitive analysis. It’s not just about outcomes, it’s also our insights that set us apart, and can help our clients stand out.
Make your client an expert. Many clients have deep subject-matter expertise, but it may need to be shaped and, of course, promoted. Making your client an SME is a great way to fulfill twin goals; you meet brand objectives while also building the relationship.
Introduce new thinking. This one’s obvious, but it can easily be put off in the day-to-day battle for results. There’s nothing like a great new idea to make your internal client executive look like a genius, but new thinking doesn’t have to be in the form of a campaign. Part of making a client shine is sometimes pushing them outside their comfort zone to embrace an unfamiliar concept or strategy.
Offer objective counsel. I remember a meeting in a large, matrixed client organization where a new customer policy was floated. No one in the room thought it was a good idea, and our agency team had concerns, but it wasn’t a decision in our client’s domain. He was so accustomed to PR-unfriendly decisions that he shrugged off the proposed move. We urged him to speak up, and in private, he did. Months later, the policy was implemented, to a fierce customer backlash and a hasty retreat. The client’s counsel didn’t change the course of events, but it did win points for him and for us.