How to establish trust with clients and build lasting relationships

A PR pro shares insights on the tactics that bolster these crucial connections for agency-side pros, and how to develop long-term affinity for one another.


Once you have established that trust, the sky is the limit in terms of what can be accomplished, according to Shannon Severino, senior account director with Pascale Communications.

“When a client knows you, understands your capabilities, and of course, sees results, you can build on that trust and take your collaboration with them to the next level,” she says. “When trust is at the foundation of your partnership, it becomes easier to suggest new ventures and more creative strategies, upping the ante with them and helping them to think differently about their tactics.”

Trust and loyalty go hand in hand, Shannon says, and together those attributes allow you to grow your clients’ accounts, as well as retain their business when they move on to a new company.

Clarity and flexibility

So, what are the ways in which Shannon achieves these strong and lasting relationships with clients?

One is being clear and concise with recommendations and backing them up with strong rationale.

“Sometimes, PR morphs and traditional methods may not be an obvious choice for every client,” she says. “There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. This often requires you to think on your toes and create opportunities that fall outside the norm when the situation calls for that.”

She adds: “It also means being able to show how you arrived at a recommendation with logical reasoning to back it up.”

When you can explain in an uncomplicated way and with proof points how a plan meets a client’s needs, you are going to be more successful at getting them to buy in to your ideas and strategies.

Person-based approach

Listening is crucial to building any relationship and something that can be missed when PR professional are trying to provide definitive direction.

Consider client goals. Find out their thoughts on how to reach them, and then provide specific and actionable feedback on the best way to achieve the desired result. “Collaboration is key,” Severino says. “It is exceedingly rare that I merely take direction without careful consideration. Pushing back (when it is needed) is vital and often leads to better results.”

Acknowledge client suggestions, then share some tweaks that can improve on their ideas. “Collaborating means understanding where the client wants to go and coming up with creative ways to get there.”

Severino notes that she has a varied client list, saying her success isn’t due to being a pro in a niche field, but rather being a pro with people from all fields.

Start small—and grow from there

When clients trust you and know they can depend on you, that trust may expand the scope of the work they do with your organization. For example, Severino notes that because of the success they have had working with her, clients often sign up for additional ancillary services offered by her agency.

Severino services all her clients equally, knowing that small clients matter, and they often grow into bigger clients.When you are attentive to all clients, including those who might have a narrower scope of work, you are poised to provide more extensive tactics when the time comes. This requires patience, consistency, and of course, trustworthiness.

“Even if a client is not necessarily one of your big clients at the time, they could turn into a big client, so you want to make sure that you’re constantly keeping an eye on their goals and thinking of ways that you can help take them to the next level,” she says. “When they look good, you look good.”

Remember that not every client will be a perfect fit with your organization, so you have to recognize if a relationship is not working and communicate with your client about any problems.

Paying it forward

In PR, doing more than what is expected strengthens client relationships and instills trust.

“You pay it forward, in a way,” Severino says. “By investing your time and energy in truly listening to and collaborating with clients, it builds a strong foundation for more opportunities to come your way in the future.”


Conni Bergmann Koury is a writer, editor and consultant for Pascale Communications as well as owner and founder of Koury MedComm. Shannon Severino is a Senior Account Director of Trade/Professional Media Relations at Pascale Communications.


2 Responses to “How to establish trust with clients and build lasting relationships”

    Rachel Breeding says:

    This was such an insightful post about something I think is so vital in the PR industry: establishing trust. I completely agree that many times PR professionals and practitioners will recommend the more “traditional” approaches to clients, because those are often the approaches that are covered in PR courses in college and the ones most already have some kind of experience with. However, being flexible and showing a client that you are really listening to their specific needs and are recommending a more personalized approach is so important to show a client you care and are willing to put in the work. Additionally, I totally agree that it is so important to actually listen to a client’s suggestions and work with those as much as possible to show your flexibility and commitment. As a young PR professional, I feel this is great advice for all PR professionals to consider as they grow their client lists and become more established in the industry. In my opinion, having a reputation of being trustworthy is one of the best things you can have in the industry. -Rachel Breeding, writer/editor for Platform Magazine

    Nathan S says:

    Gaining trust is one of the biggest accomplishments that one can have with their clients. Out of the five ways you listed to gain someone’s trust, I thought that starting small and growing from there was the best tip. It is important to not rush someone into something as big as trust. The more time you take to learn your client the more he/she will trust you. I also thought you did a great job at explaining that once trust is gained the sky’s the limit. Gaining a client’s trust is the ultimate way to expand their interest in your organization. That is the ultimate secret to becoming a great source for relationships.

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