Yes, getting consistent effective media coverage is difficult, but once you’ve been in the industry for a bit, you learn that actually, managing and maintaining client relationships is arguably one of the more challenging parts of your day-to-day.
Much of the frustration stems from expectations; it’s a challenge to explain to a client just how difficult, for example, landing a story in a top publication really is – remember that your clients don’t have that firsthand experience of a great pitch sent to 100+ contacts resulting in absolute silence. Clients are completely focused on evidence-based results and so it’s hard to convey: even though I didn’t get any responses, I am working hard for you, I am doing the right things, and I’m going to keep working at this until we get somewhere good.
Over the years, I have worked with 30+ PR firms, and I have seen firsthand how important client management is, what works and what doesn’t. Below are a few more ideas on how to develop strong, lasting, trusting relationships with clients:
Implement Planned Over-communication
As a publicist, I find that the best way to keep clients happy is to constantly be in communication. A client should never have to follow up with you for information or an update – if you do, you’ve failed in your job as their PR rep.
It’s common to want to stay silent unless you have good news to share, but clients want to know the good and the bad. I aim to be 100 percent transparent with my clients from the get-go. If a pitch isn’t working, I let them know. I also let them know I have moved onto a new pitch and that we are are going to shelve any ideas that currently just aren’t working.
Keeping them informed, even more than you probably want to (or feel like you have time for) really will save you from doing damage control later on.
Invite your clients into the process
My job is to secure PR placements, but I am not an expert in every industry. Include clients in recurring article and media brainstorms and ask smart questions about what’s current in their industry. As your client explains current opportunities and challenges, you listen for the newsworthy hook. Then you figure out the best way to pitch and when. Pay attention to the language they use, and incorporate it into your outreach, which will ensure your pitch comes off as educated and authentic.
Involving your clients in the process is a great way to build rapport, educate them on what the media wants to cover and helps you more effectively represent them in your outreach.
Set boundaries before you sign
If you are on the phone with clients talking about the work you have been hired to perform for them, you won’t have any time to actually implement your plans. Address methods of communication in your client kick-off meeting, and reiterate them in your scope of work or retainer agreement.
The adage, “you teach people how to treat you,” applies to PR agencies and client relationships as well. You can cut down on daily interruptions for status meetings, but have a process into place for providing updates. Whether you choose to share tracking sheets so clients can view live updates, provide a daily status report via email each day by 4:30pm, or set up regularly scheduled touch base calls throughout the week, define and stick to a communication plan that keeps your client feeling seen and heard.
Meet all deadlines
Getting things done when you say you will is a great way to build client trust; so set up deadlines that you can know you can meet. The minute you know you are going to be delayed, reach out with an explanation and an updated deadline and then absolutely meet that deadline with as much added value as you can pack into the deliverable.
Invest in the relationship
Whenever possible, turn in your deliverables a little bit early. Go above and beyond – create a point of view doc on an emerging social media platform with a few strategies, share a new app or resource. Send an occasional “just because” gift. Remember kid’s names, birthdays, and make it clear you care.
Like most things in PR, the only way to get better is to keep doing it. Client management can’t be taught – it’s simply something you get better at with experience. If you’re feeling frustrated right now, trust that over time you will find your groove. Sometimes you will have a difficult client at that’s that, but often you have more control than you think when it comes to turning the relationship around.