There’s no feeling like winning a new client. After all the research, writing the proposal, prepping the team, pitching and signing the contract, you’re ready for the real work to begin. But remember, it’s not only the significant, “glory” efforts, like a significant media hit or successful event, that help a PR agency retain such clients. There are a lot of subtleties to a client/agency relationship that can also make or break an account. Make sure your team is well versed on providing not only the best PR, but excellent customer service. Here are five tips to get you started:
- Don’t ask for what you can find yourself . Your client contacts are busy. Usually Director or VP level executives, they have a lot going on internally, which is why they hired you. They expect and trust you to take care of things, and that includes finding a link or available information yourself, without asking them to send it to you. Don’t send an email asking, “Can you send me the link to today’s news release?” when you can easily find it online yourself.
- Don’t over e-mail. PR agencies are notorious for emailing everything as a CYA move. But in doing so, they can overwhelm their prospect, cause confusion and frustrate everyone. If you must record or respond to every conversation point, might we suggest trying a communications tool like Slack? Or better yet, go old school and pick up the phone… you won’t be able to record every word you say, but you can create a stronger relationship with your client contact.
- Anticipate and act. One of the greatest things PR firms can do is to anticipate what their clients need or are going to ask - and answer before that happens. A client who feels their team is proactively anticipating their needs is a happy client. Too often, agencies don’t do this for fear of being wrong. Trust your gut - take action.
- Don’t be a “yes man.” Clients hire agencies for their expertise, not to be their BFF. Sometimes they have high - even ridiculous - demands. But the best agencies are those with leaders who can say “no,” and steer a client to a better alternative or suggestion. You were hired for your strategic guidance, so use it. Clients will thank you later.
- Don’t blame the client. In retail it’s long been know that “the customer is always right.” PR could stand to apply a little of this mentality. Even if it really is the client’s fault that a media opportunity fell through, in customer service industries like PR, you often have to “fall on your sword,” and accept responsibility for a guffaw. Certainly, if a client did something detrimental, it’s your job to help educate them on what happened and why (as well as how to improve), but you’re in PR - certainly you can do so in a diplomatic manner.
- Measure and report success and failures. You knew we’d throw in something about measurement and analytics, right? Letting your clients know that you are constantly monitoring the outcome of PR campaigns is a smart move. Being honest about what didn’t work, in addition to touting your successes, is a trust and credibility builder. No agency is perfect. Things go wrong. Often they are things out of your control and that’s okay. Acknowledging this fact and presenting what happened, and how your strategy will change as a result, is a great way to retain a client who knows that you are always analyzing and tweaking your approach to secure the best outcomes. Better yet, align data to business impact and you’ll ensure a lifelong client.
- Listen and ask questions. In our collective experience in agencies, we’ve seen too many PR executives who don’t know when to just shut up and listen. They are way too concerned with proving how smart they are at every. single. moment. If you don’t listen, you can’t learn. You can’t hear the client. You don’t understand the journalist. Listening is a fundamental PR skill that is way underrated. In addition, encourage younger PR executives to ask questions - too many PR executives think asking questions is a sign of weakness. There’s nothing worse than pretending you know things you don’t, and it happens too often in PR.
Overall, train your team to listen, think ahead, take action and provide strategic counsel. Give your staff the tools they need to not only execute great PR, but to build and maintain great relationships. After all, we are talking about people relations at the end of the day.