10 Ways to be a Great Client

PR people love sugar more than horses.

PR people love sugar more than horses.

It takes two to tango.

I was heartened recently when a colleague was invited to speak at a client event.  The client recommended an intriguing topic for the talk: “How can companies be better clients for their PR agencies.”  It’s easy to blame your consultants when a relationship goes sour, but truth be told it isn’t always the fault of the agency.

So here are my 10 unscientific ways that clients can be better clients.  Please feel free to add your own observations.

Be polite.

Snarling never gets the job done.  So imagine what happens when you decide not to send terse emails, leave rude voicemails or scold people at meetings?  You get a better and stronger relationship.

Sugar works better than vinegar

When your team gets you a feature in BusinessWeek or produces a blockbuster YouTube video or designs a killer iPhone application, why not tell them how much you appreciate it?  Yes, they are paid to deliver results, but everyone likes a pat on the back, too.

Not even Houdini could read minds.

Your PR team can’t deliver the results you expect if you haven’t articulated them.  Be direct.  Tell them what your expectations are and then put it in writing.  When everyone is on the same page there are no surprises.

Mistakes and disagreements will happen.

Even the best relationships go through rocky periods.  So it is inevitable that something will go wrong.  But don’t bail just because there’s been a mistake.  Deal with it together.  Find a solution.  Pointing fingers, expressing disappointment, and throwing tantrums doesn’t get you to a solution.  In fact, it probably makes things worse.  As long as mistakes are not habitual, work through the errors and then develop procedures to prevent them from happening again.

Keep drama in Merle Streep movies.

Overreactions, crying, hysterical laughter, game playing, etc. may win you an Academy Award, but they won’t win a loyal and dedicated client relationship.

In-person meetings are best.

Virtual relationships only get you so far.  Getting to know a person in person is the only way of truly connecting with them.  Communications become much more confident and secure once two people have met.

You aren’t the boss – you are the client.

And there’s a big difference.  You account team works with you – not for you.  PR agencies are partners.  They have their own organizational structures and hierarchies.  The account executive on your team is not your employee.  They work for the the agencies.  So it is not appropriate to assign them work and deadlines.  You’ll have a primary account manager assigned to you and its your job to work through them to get your account team working for you.

Micromanaging = bad relationships.

Do you really need to read every single media pitch?  Do you want to be cc’ed on every email among the team?  When everyone can focus on their duties – the job generally gets done better.

It’s a partnership – so share.

The more information about your goals, objectives, strategy, tactics, etc. that you share with your team the better your results will be.  Treating your PR team like outsiders or hired guns means you won’t be getting the most out of the relationship.  PR agencies have lots of connections – with analysts, journalists, bloggers, pundits, venture capitalists and business leaders.  They won’t know what you need until you tell them.  The more you share, the more you get back.

Give us a map to the minefield.

Every company and organization has its politics and internal strife.  If you clue in your PR team ahead of time where the mines are located then they’ll be less likely to step on one.

What about you?  Any thoughts on what it takes to be a great client?

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3 Responses to “10 Ways to be a Great Client”

  1. Great post George. Some additions from me:

    The client can be wrong

    As the client you will not always be right. You may insist on a strategy that doesn’t work out, perhaps even against the better judgement of your agency. If this does happen admit your mistake and work on how the situation can be rectified. A client is not infallible and should not pretend to be.

    Clients do not have to be smarter than your agency

    Don’t assume you always need to know all the answers. Even when you think you know the answer ask the advice of your team – their response may be a better solution or lead to a better collaborative outcome.

    Don’t hold grudges

    When mistakes are made on the agency side, address them, put in places measures to limit potential for reoccurrence and then move on.

    Big up your agency internally and CC them

    Ensure that the people internally recognise the good work your agency does. This will not take the limelight away from you, it will simply reinforce the great work you are responsible for and will ensure your team feels valued.

  2. Hi Matthew:
    Thank you for the excellent additions! And, of course, the kind words.


  1. Ten ways to be a great client – via HighTalk « MatthewGain.com - October 26, 2009

    […] For those managing agencies at the moment, or for those planning on heading in there in the near future, my colleague George F Snell III (isn’t that a brilliant name!), has compiled a list of ten ways you can be …. […]

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