Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Changing Clients into Better Ones.

Well it’s a new year. Not really, we disguise it as September but this is typically when we have a renewed sense of purpose, conviction and drive. I have several theories on why this change takes place but the simplest explanation (besides the fact that it’s cold) is that Labor Day has always been the start of the school year. So, even though we’re four months shy of December 31st, today for millions, marks a new chapter of challenges, learning, renewal and self-improvement.

I had a few weeks off in August to ponder my agency, what we do and how to improve the services we offer our clients during the last and perhaps most important quarter of the year. That’s not to say that we’ve been lax in servicing our clients. In fact, it’s quite the contrary but I’m always thinking of ways to better our processes and how to harness the best of our “best practices.” And then it dawned on me during a nauseating episode of Oprah one afternoon - we don’t need more retooling as an agency; we need to get our clients to be better clients!

I am eternally grateful for the clients we partner with and represent. They are best in class and validate my decision to stay in the PR business. But, there will always be a handful of clients that make you feel like you are forever pushing a boulder up a mountain with no harness or safety belt. They are the personification of how the client/agency relationship can be a constant struggle.

Let’s face it -- some clients are not equipped to manage an external partner. It takes a lot of time and energy from the client’s end to fully embrace and involve the agency at every key level. Clients need to be prepared and committed to being an active participant in the PR function.

My client and friend Michael Alexandor once said to me “clients get the work they deserve.” I couldn’t agree more. Clients will get the most and the best from their agency partner by following a few simple and proven techniques. So, here are my top five fool-proof tips for clients to become “better clients.” Enjoy and implement immediately.

1. Open Communication: Clients should disclose the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s counterproductive to piecemeal or sugar coat information to those responsible for developing the strategies to deal with potential problems. Agencies want and often need to know everything from core business objectives to your retail relationships that might sour all the way to down to who got corked at company Christmas party. The more an agency is part of the client’s inner sanctum, the better the work product, strategy and results will net out. When it comes to transparency, more is certainly better.

2. Senior Client Contact: Please don’t promote the CEO’s sister in accounting to take care of that “PR thingie” on the side! Relegating the PR responsibility to a junior staffer is a recipe for disaster. Clients should appoint a senior marketer or communications expert for daily agency dealings. The first sign of a relationship “crack up” is often shown to start with the daily reporting methods. If you get this right, the partnership will be bliss.

3. Don’t buy a dog if you’re going to do the barking: Clients must allow agencies to do what they do best … consult on public relations strategies. Once you open your business kimono, let the agency take it from there. Yes, we know best. Why? Because it’s what we do, a hundred times a day. If you are paying for counsel, listen and reap the benefits of your investment.

4. A little “thanks” goes a long way: Yes, that’s right. Clients sometimes forget that just by saying “great job” in an email or quick call makes our hearts grow bigger than the Grinch after he found Christmas! Granted, we get paid for what we do, but a PR manager likes nothing more than to be able to share a “job well done” with the front line PR folks responsible for doggedly shopping a story around to hardened, cynical journalists or schlepping boxes to trade shows. If a PR outcome was truly spectacular, then tell your agency, you’ll be surprised how appreciative your team will be.

5. Treat your agency professionally – at all times: It’s rare but for reasons beyond my comprehension, I’ve come across clients that choose to be downright nasty to their agency team mates. No one, including your 5-year old son wants to be belittled, condescended or patronized. If you’ve had a bad day or your own managers are grilling you in the tool shed, don’t use your agency as human piñatas. Life is too short, and agencies aren’t gonna take it anymore. The pink slips go both ways!

Committed as I am to self-improvement, it’s clear to me that there are times during the year when it’s necessary to look beyond the four office walls to institute change. If you think I’m missing any tips, please let me know, the list can grow from here.


Flack of all trades said...

Power to the PR people! This should be the beginnings of a PR manifesto.

Dave Jones said...

Great post, Julie. I couldn't agree more. How about putting headlines on your posts?

Terry Fallis said...

Welcome Julie! We can all use your voice in the PR blogosphere. Excellent insights on clients too. I hope they all take your advice for our mutual benefit.

Eric Eggertson said...

Well said. I'm going to save this post to comment on in a week or two...

Duane Brown said...

Great post, Julie. I think it goes without saying, but making sure that the clients expectation are realistic. To many think everything is news worthy or they should be on the cover of a magazine.