How PR pros can navigate remote client relationships

As many PR agencies consider working with remote teams and clients, how can they ensure the work doesn’t suffer? Consider these insights.

Unlimited PTO. Work from home. Flexible schedules.

These are the demands of a younger generation entering the workforce. A robust 81% of millennial job seekers said an option to work remotely would greatly increase their interest in specific employers, according to a survey by AfterCollege.

A work-from-anywhere model is popping up in every industry, especially in industries like marketing and public relations, where so much of the job can happen over digital channels. With a team of 15 millennials and Gen Z-ers and being a millennial myself, I know that the benefits of this model allow my team to thrive both personally and professionally.

However, this model also requires managing client relationships from afar.

Communication is more important than proximity

Clients won’t worry about your being remote if you deliver results, align on goals and understand their business needs. Clients value consistent, transparent and authentic communication more than having an agency onsite or down the street.

In fact, I’m hearing from established agency owners that they want the flexibility of a remote work lifestyle and are transitioning their agencies to that model. To do this tactically, your team must be visible in the communication channels the client is comfortable with, whether that’s email, phone, Slack or another offering.

Should you still visit the client from time to time? If an in-person visit will further cement the relationship in ways remote communication can’t, then absolutely invest resources into that time. However, it’s a question that should be answered on a case-by-case basis, and it might not be necessary if your client has positively communicated that the team is achieving great results.

Make technology work for both of you

Customizing your arsenal of tools and technology is crucial for a remote agency environment, even more so than in a traditional setting. We use Slack, Zoom, Sococo and more, but whatever you use, make sure your team and your clients are comfortable.

Remove as many barriers as possible. This might mean hosting an orientation for clients on tools and easing them in. For example, some clients (particularly if they are Generation X or older) can be uncomfortable with video calls. Yet, if you hand-hold at the start, slowly introducing more video time, they grow to value the technology because it allows for the candor that’s essential in PR.

Ensure video is a part of your regular cadence of client contact. It’s more personal and keeps your communication authentic and transparent. Also, keep your remote team consistent. For a remote structure to be successful, you must have consistency in everything from account management to pitching processes and reporting.

Though each account lead will have his or her own style of management, it’s imperative to have carefully documented, replicable processes for everything to protect your standards of client service and guarantee results. This allows a team member in Nashville to deliver the same client experience as the person in Chicago, provides clarity for team members about how things are supposed to be done and enhances culture because your team members are all operating from the same guidebook.

Finally, it gives you a framework to scale your agency, because detailed processes make it easy to train new people and cross-train your existing team across different accounts or service areas.

The benefits of being remote

Remote relationships save time. You don’t have to budget hours for traveling to and from client meetings. It’s a much more efficient use of time for your clients and team. We have found that phone or video meetings tend to end earlier so we can focus more time on the activities that yield results, like pitching media outlets.

The remote model also tends to increase collaboration with clients. Using tools like Google Drive, clients can review and edit files in real-time and work when they feel most creative, which isn’t always the case during a traditional meeting. Because you’re not tied to a geographic location, you can scale with your clients in whichever market they’re headed to next. You can also take new business and hire new team members not based on proximity, but on the right fit, making the agency stronger and more profitable.

A remote working model can even inspire clients. After they experience our model and benefits that are so loved by employees, it opens their minds to rethink how a team can operate. Some of our clients have taken a page out of our work-from-anywhere handbook and taken their team to an offsite retreat or introduced a new tool like Slack.

They desire to work from home or create better benefits for their company, and we show them it’s possible. Efficiently running a remote team reinforces to our clients why they chose us as their partner.

Kate Finley is the millennial founder and CEO of Belle Communication, an award-winning PR, influencer and social media firm based in Columbus, Ohio. @kateupdates

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Topics: PR

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