How PR pros can prosperously navigate client relationships

Savvy, healthy communications agencies know how to gain new business, nourish partnerships and realize when separation is necessary. Here’s how you can do the same.

Heading into 2016, take a moment to reflect and evaluate your agency’s relationships.

Winning in PR means anticipating your client’s needs many steps in advance. A creative, strategic campaign to heighten awareness as well as spur sales has become part of the digital economy.

Winning traits include networking and aligning interests, award-winning storytelling abilities and marketing prowess. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and “The Power Broker” have been bestsellers for decades by teaching the importance of focusing on the client.

Client pitches that win

The consummate PR pitch is elusive. It depends on the client’s perception of the pitcher as much as on what is conveyed by the pitch. It hangs on the listener’s decision whether to proceed within the first 20 minutes of any meeting with a PR pro. A unique chemistry is exchanged when an agency wins new business.

Mustr agency’s Raf Weverbergh thinks it imperative to kick off the initial pitch meeting on the right foot, noting, “You should engage the catcher as soon as possible in the development of the idea. Once the catcher feels like a creative collaborator, the odds of acceptance are secured.” The PR pitch becomes less routine, and more like the successful understanding of human perception on the other side of the table.

Paul Holmes in “How to Design the Agency of the Future” believes several criteria factor in to how to win new business. The best agencies are those that adapt rather than stay tied to antiquated definitions of what an agency delivers. This may mean a unique blend of marketing, social media and advertising practices. Digital PR demands multidisciplinary expertise.

Forbes asserts that the client expects core traits from its PR group. When hiring an agency, states American Express Open Forum, knowing the difference between media relations and PR, sharing your goals with the PR pros, having realistic expectations, spending time with your potential agency, embracing social media and accepting that being “uncomfortable” is okay are all important.

Strengthening working relationships

What the agency considers when taking on a new client has as much to do with defining an emerging category, building a new brand and business model, as well as reputation management.

The agency wants a client equal in distinction to itself to justify investing the agency’s time, resources and team equity. Respect should exist on both sides. This new contract is a partnership, not just “business.”

Communication is key. The agency is not an outsourced vendor, but a results-driven business partner.

A popular use of PR: winning industry awards while building the client’s reputation. Winning accolades is perfect for attracting attention to a client’s brand.

Cision recommends PR agencies nominate themselves. It generates awareness and new business.

In any agency-client relationship, respect, communication and the accomplishing of goals may eventually begin to falter. This often occurs very early, between months one and three, or sometimes in less than 30 days. Interestingly, not much is written on this topic.

Breaking things off the right way

If a client ignores advice and creates drama while insisting on unrealistic demands, it may be a sign that the PR agency should quickly cut the cord. Everything-PR highlights the importance of recognizing toxic client behavior early. The agency must free itself from further anxieties before those worries affect other clients—or press and industry partners.

It is crucial to make the break professional, succinct and seamless. Simple steps can ease the pain.

Inc suggests that knowing how and when to walk away from a client is an unavoidable part of PR. When client expectations can no longer be managed or met, it may be time to part ways.

Forbes advises that a lack of integrity is a red flag in the agency-client partnership. Because trust is the foundation of rapport, when a PR agency feels trust has been compromised or violated, it should cut ties.

PRDaily supplies the most obvious indication that it is time for an agency to release a client. When PR pros no longer believe in the products or services of the client, they can’t serve their needs. When creative power is gone the ability to get results disappears. The solution is to break it off.

The reverse happens too. Clients initiate the break up, citing dissatisfaction or insisting on unrealistic tactics.

LinkedIn asserts that silence and time-wasting micro-management may indicate a client wants to separate.

The PR firm must always anticipate change and remember the need to keep the dialogue open and healthy. Here’s to a great new year of PR in 2016 to everyone in the industry.

Courtney Lukitsch is the founder and principal of Gotham Public Relations, a 14-year-old boutique agency in New York City.

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