After spending more than a decade in public relations working at large global agencies, boutique firms and in-house – I’ve had the privilege of partnering with clients of all sizes and dynamics – and also being a client myself.
While the PR industry continues to evolve, one constant is that every client relationship should be built on a strong partnership based on trust, strategic counsel, expertise and results. Unfortunately, I’ve seen PR agency/client relationships dissolve when they could have been well avoided.
PR pros: below are the five most common reasons why I’ve seen client relationships fizzle – and how to fix things before it’s too late.
This typically happens during the new business stage. A client asks several PR agencies to come in and pitch for their business, and one agency (or more) brings in their senior execs – their seasoned “closers” – to the table. The client is impressed with the caliber of the proposed PR team and hands them the business. Shortly after, the senior executives are nowhere to be seen and the client is left with overwhelmed junior staff. Unsurprisingly, the client, frustrated by the lack of strategic counsel and transparency, terminates the relationship.
As PR pros, we always recommend that brands be authentic and honest – so why wouldn’t we in our client relationships? Sure, bringing in the most seasoned and articulate people could increase the chances of success (i.e. gaining the prospect’s revenue), however, it’s a strategy steeped in short-termism. You’re also denying your more junior staff – who also are brimming with ideas and enthusiasm – with invaluable experience. And who wants to develop the reputation as “the one that did the bait and switch” by an embittered client?
In an era where PR professionals should think beyond traditional media relations, the sky is the limit to uncovering new approaches to telling a client’s story. Even B2B communicators, who have historically lagged in adopting applications such as Snapchat, Instagram and Periscope, are coming up with ways to embrace these technologies to reach their audiences.
Still suggesting hackneyed press releases and surveys as tactics? You need to think more broadly than that.
Become well-versed in new PR approaches. Check out interesting campaigns from your peers and learn from them by signing up to workshops, training sessions and connecting one-on-one. Dedicate a portion of your time to learning about newer technologies so that you can incorporate these initiatives with confidence.
The PR industry has unfortunately lagged behind its marketing counterparts when it comes to measurement. While AVE (average measurement equivalent) has been decried as an inaccurate metric, it (sadly) hasn’t died completely.
However, other accepted measures – including volume of articles, tonality/favorability, depth of article and impressions – are increasingly not enough for clients and their stakeholders. Particularly when talking to the C-suite or to the PR uninitiated, some of these metrics seems vague in terms of how it then impacts the business.
Chat to your client and other key stakeholders about their business objectives and what they want to achieve from PR before jumping in with stock standard metrics. This will not only define your metrics but also certainly justify your PR strategy and activities.
Think also about demonstrating the value of PR beyond measures that the marketing team will understand. For example, if a client needs greater sales enablement, customer stories in industry publications are a piece of collateral that can support its sales force. It’s a case of thinking holistically about what metrics to incorporate.
While a PR agency is accountable to whatever metrics it sets for itself, a true partnership with a client is one where you are constantly coming up with valuable insights that a client wouldn’t have thought of themselves. Your clients expect you to have a strong pulse on their key influencers, PR trends and breaking news.
Read constantly and share interesting articles relevant to your client that also include a brief summary of why the article is important, how it relates to them, and what they can do about it. Identify new outlets and influencers. Push yourself to think outside of the box, and use ice-breakers to brainstorm ideas. While you may not be able to execute all your ideas, delivering a spate of thoughtful suggestions clearly shows your team’s worth.