On a new business presentation to a start-up company years ago, we were asked a real softball question: “If you had to describe your ideal client, what would that be.”
The prospect was looking for a list of descriptors that would make up our “fantasy” client. And while we almost said, “A client that pays on time,” we decided discretion was the better part of valor and refrained.
But somewhat surprising to them was that we actually had such a client: It was a $600 million consumer electronics company. And the reason we considered them perfect were that they incorporated us as if it were part of their company. They kept us informed of just about everything they were doing in marketing, even if PR was not an obvious component. They gave us advance notice about new products in development months before they were to be announced.
But that got me to thinking: What was it about our firm that this industry leader respected and valued? So I began to pay closer attention to how we serviced our clients. It went beyond just doing a good job; it was how we conducted ourselves in the process.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share some thoughts to account managers on how small changes in behavior and presentation can elevate reputations – yours and your firm’s:
Your Mindset: You Are Not Just A Vendor
Most marketing people or company executives think they understand public relations. But their understanding of what we do is often very limited. As PR practitioners, we are trained professionals with a valuable skill set. In that sense, we are no different than a lawyer or a financial advisor. And we should think of ourselves that way.
Look The Part
To wear a business suit or not to wear a suit? It’s a good question these days, as more companies go casual. I always advise that you dress for the occasion, keeping in mind that it’s better to be a tad overdressed than underdressed. That does not mean you can’t dress down a bit, if the situation calls for it. But don’t be more casual than the client. And it’s OK to be stylish, too, but don’t make a trend-setting fashion statement. You also don’t want to wear a low-cut blouse or a skirt that’s too short. You want your client to see you as a serious professional, and you don’t want your clothes or accessories to work counter to that perception.
Don’t Be Afraid To Disagree With A Client. But Do It With RESPECT!
As I said above, many clients think they understand public relations. But do they really? Some years ago the VP of marketing at our large consumer electronics client was frustrated because he was seeing more press releases from Sony than he was about his company. He wanted more press releases, he said. We respectfully explained that the objective of our program was to garner coverage in our key markets, rather than to just send out a lot of press releases? We pointed out that he was seeing the Sony press releases because he had his Google Alerts set to see anything with the word Sony. So he was seeing anything that was distributed on the newswire, not what was appearing in the media. We also reminded him that Sony had many more divisions and many more products that his company did, and that because Sony was a public company, any news they were sending out had to be posted publicly on the wire.
Lastly, we reminded him that it was the results that were important, not the number of releases. And since we tracked our news coverage in both consumer and the trades, we were able to show him his company received far more news coverage than his competitive divisions at Sony.
Remember, what you really want to do is understand the client’s goals and keep everyone’s efforts focused on achieving them.
Clients may ask you, “What do you think,” but professional advice should never begin with the words, “I/We think…” Thinking connotes indecisiveness. (I THINK I remember making a left turn here.” Or “I THINK it’s the red wire we should cut.”) Whatever plan of action you are presenting to the client, you want it to be a recommendation: “Based our knowledge of the situation and our experience, here’s what we’d recommend…”
Remember This Key Word: INITIATIVE
One of the biggest complaints I hear when pursuing new business it that the prospect has a PR firm, but that all the ideas and initiative comes from the client side. That is a recipe for disaster. Clients are paying for us to be the source of ideas. We need to be as proactive as we are reactive.
Know/Develop Your Craft. Be the Expert
The media landscape is changing almost daily, and we need to be the experts. We need to know what is in and what is out. And we need to know what is right for different circumstances or audiences.
Develop a Professional Network
Being the expert does not have to be a lonely existence. Think about building a network of friends within our fraternity of PR professionals – locally, nationally, even internationally. Organizations like the PRSA are a great resource for finding fellow PR pros to offer advice or for bouncing ideas around.
Remember: It’s Their Money
A family friend who was in consulting once said something that’s important to remember: “Tell ‘em once. Tell ‘em twice. Then take their money.” What he meant was, at the end of the day, the final decision is the client’s. As consultants, we can only advise and recommend. If they make a decision that runs counter to our recommendation, then those are our marching orders. Obviously, you won’t do anything unethical or that could damage yours or your firm’s reputation or credibility. But unless that is the case, you need to accept the decision and do the very best you can to deliver the desired results.