Anyone who has worked in public relations can attest to the fact that it can be demanding. There are late nights, early mornings, and the pressure of meeting and managing clients’ expectations.
On top of that, today’s PR professional must be constantly seeking opportunities to learn, be creative, connect with dwindling media ranks, and keep up with the rapidly expanding digital PR toolkit.
In the shuffle it can be easy to overlook the importance of assessing a client’s experience in working with you and the team managing their PR program.
By taking the time to think about how we interface with our clients on a daily basis, we can better ensure that they are informed about their PR program but not overwhelmed by information and unnecessary or overlapping communications. Below are a few tips to help improve the PR client experience.
Apply Upward Management
The ability to anticipate your clients’ needs before they come to you, and to think through and address the next steps will help any PR professional stand out with clients for the simple reason that it saves time.
Small things can make a big difference. Haven’t heard from the client? Initiate a call or meeting. Sending an item for review? Provide a suggested deadline and outline the next steps in the process.
Following up on an item pending response? Call or send a follow up email, always reattaching or re-sending the item pending review so the client doesn’t have to go searching back through emails. Is the client returning from vacation?
Send a comprehensive update (more on this below), that lists any items pending review and provides a status on key program elements.
A clincher: encountered a roadblock or obstacle? Always provide multiple solutions with a clear recommendation to meet the goal.
Every client is different. While it’s ideal to be included at the strategy table, some clients will pass along ideas for implementation and it can be touchy to disagree with their suggestion or approach.
It is absolutely critical to be forthright at the front end, because it’s far more difficult to question and redirect the plan once in motion.
After all, we were hired to “provide objective counsel to those we represent,” right? (PRSA Code of Ethics). The vast majority of clients appreciate a candid, tell-it-like-it-is assessment backed up by information and alternatives.
Establish a Consistent Point of Contact
It’s great to have a big team to support a client. But only a select one or two team members with strong client relations skills should be in direct contact with the client on a regular basis. The client should never have any doubt about who to contact when a direct call comes in from a reporter, a new item needs to be placed on the website, a crisis emerges, etc. Sure, positions will change and people on the agency and client sides will come and go. These transitions offer the chance to reestablish or reinforce points of contact.
Provide Regular Updates
There is a lot of discussion about PR measurement these days, and that’s a good thing because we owe it to our clients to demonstrate a return on their investment.
Regular, concise updates on future planning, successes and timelines are critical. Using bullet points and brief case studies—especially for digital PR program highlights—can be particularly effective.
When reporting to corporate clients, the primary audience is generally your point of contact’s boss and their boss, who don’t have time for all the details but want to see that the investment is worthwhile.
On format, most people don’t want to read text-heavy documents, as demonstrated by the easy to digest, highly visual bits of information that are the most shared pieces of content on social media and blogs.
Apply this to client updates and demonstrate the PR program impact and your creativity in one useful package.
Talk to Your Clients
This may sound simple, but asking clients for an assessment of working and communicating with you and your team goes a long way to improving the relationship.
Asking specific questions about the format and frequency of updates, the daily exchange of emails and phone calls, the agenda and effectiveness of the regularly scheduled conference calls, etc., can save a lot of time and energy for clients and PR professionals alike.
To get a baseline starting point, I suggest looking back at one or two typical workflow weeks and listing all of the interactions that took place between the agency and your client.
My guess is that you will see several opportunities for more effective communications – consolidating emails, setting more concrete agendas to keep discussions focused and productive, etc.
From this point you can identify some set changes that will improve the PR client experience.
What works for you?