Whether you are at the agency side or at a corporate side, we all know that relationships permeate every aspect of our lives. So relations can either be good, which we are very happy and excited about or it can be bad, which we either tolerate or let go in due course. Never though we willingly want to get into a bad relationship or want a good relationship to turn bad, we all want a happy and smooth relationship –be it at work or at home.
Having said that we as the relationship managers seldom motivate ourselves to truly work towards improving, building and enhancing the professional relationship we share with our clients, agencies or even media. We all see it only from the lenses of pure work and hardly give any heed to human emotions that an individual possesses.
The PR business is essentially a people business, we don’t own large assets, but people themselves are our assets, so in a world that revolves around things as abstract as creating perceptions, changing mind-sets, where there is no one right answer to any problem, relationships are bound to be highly volatile and emotionally charged.
A client’s relationship with its communications firm is one of the most complex in the business environment and requires a substantial level of collaboration from both parties to make it effective and sustainable, especially in these trying times where patience is thinner, loyalty is weaker and understanding is more shallow.
So today let’s discuss some tips that people at both ends should adopt to create a healthy and successful client-agency relationship.
Having worked on both the sides, I have some learning from sides, that I wish to share and you can then contribute to the list from your own experiences and help make this post a reference point of relationship check whenever we sense the relationship is drifting towards the lower end.
- First and foremost before placing that chip on your shoulder of being a client, please understand how communications as a function work, what is achievable and what you should not even dare to ask your agency to execute. Understand how media operates or for that matter understand what makes news – media is never obliged to carry your advertising slogans even if you are the biggest advertiser.
- Consider your agency as an extension of your in-house team. Trust and respect the team’s experience and capability, allow them to provide strategic insight and know-how. They are more exposed to different types of communication challenges while working for various clients possibly sometimes even more experienced than you. Try and given them access to meet your company’s top management, product/brand/service managers whenever it is possible. Without a complete view of your company from the inside out, your PR firm will miss opportunities to place you into the stories that matters. If you cannot involve your PR agency in the marketing blitz atleast keep them aware and in the loop, you never know what marketing action you or your marketing team initiates can be a good prospective story idea.
- Have clear and achievable expectations: Define clearly the objectives and set clear measurable benchmarks. Provide all the relevant information that is required to create pitch notes, articles etc. Also be quick to approve/reject the content/strategy generated by your PR partners, this saves a lot of their valuable time, which can be channelized to deliver better results. Give constructive feedback in a kind manner.
- Motivate your partners: They are also as human as you are, as you start jumping when your boss praises you for the work done by your agency, even those poor executives get excited by your small email appreciating their work. They will work harder, just to get another appreciation email from you. But don’t overdo, as every appreciation has its value, simply sending congratulatory emails for routine jobs will lose its sheen. Treat them well, they are not your just another vendor but your intellectual partners
- At the same always keep your account challenging, never let your account be known as dead account. Keep pushing your team to come up with new ideas, new ways of gaining visibility. It’s OK if you cannot implement all of them, but let the creative engine function at all times.
- Permission to fail: It is never possible that your partners will always get you the best in the world or will never goof up. Sometimes even the very best ideas don’t translate or, the media fails to respond positively to the pitch/release, or there is a mistake committed by an inexperienced executive. Relax, this happens, instead of shooting that stinker, wait and work along with your partners, support them to upgrade their understanding. Stand by your partners when things don’t go as planned. Share responsibility as well as failures.
- Think before you suggest: We at the agency side have made our work so routine that we work like horses with blinders, whenever there is a suggestion requested by the client, we throw the same laundry list on his face, without even thinking for a moment, if the solutions offered really fit that particular unique situation the client is facing. Take a moment to think out of the box, whenever such opportunity comes your way, take references from your experiences and learning but don’t necessarily enforce the same as a solution, think differently, think broader, think of a solution that is unique.
- Clients continue to site the same reasons for terminating their relationship with their agency, and one of reason most prominently figured every time is – Lack of interest/understanding of client’s business. Still at many levels within the agency we spend very less time in upgrading our understanding on the business/industry the client operates in, the business environment impacting his business, socio-political-economic events that can benefit or harm the client. Ignorance is never bliss in our business.
- Being Human: I don’t mean Salman Khan’s initiative, but just be you. Don’t be robotic in your dealing with your client. Be friendly and accessible (sometimes even at odd hours and on holidays), you never know which crisis has hit your client. Don’t hide behind an email; pick up the phone and talk. Be sensitive to your clients schedule and sometimes you can even be empathetic to potential corporate politics but don’t indulge in gossip, remember he is your client and not your friend.
- Be enthusiastic and inquisitive. It’s ok to ask questions to understand more on your clients business. But at the same time do your homework well to not ask obvious and readily available information. Be friendly, helpful but never arrogant. Always remember the Golden rule of under promising and over delivering.
- Don’t underestimate your client. It is very common within the agency circles to believe your client is an idiot; he/she doesn’t understand how PR works and behaves like a moron. Never have such presumptions come in a way of working with your client. Try and understand the reasons behind his vague requests, negotiate and work with them to find a resolution. Don’t lie and be fake as it is highly possible that client must have been in your shoes in the past and hence can see through the white lies that you bounce on him. Be honest and genuine.
This list can never be complete and we can go on adding points endlessly, but I would like to throw open the floor for more such experiences from everyone and make this platform a dialogue not just a monologue. Hence I would like to stop myself here and invite your feedback and inputs to help develop this discussion further. Would appreciate your feedback and response either on this forum or on my blog or simply drop a line on Twitter @vikramkharvi