4 tips for clarifying PR expectations with clients

Keep everyone happy and on the same page.

How to keep PR clients' expectations in check

We’re all familiar with the stereotypes and misconceptions affiliated with being in the public relations industry. Some make the claim that PR is “all spin.” For others, it’s all about who you know, attending parties and special events. 

As a publicist and account strategist at Otter PR, I take pride in the successes I achieve working with my clients, but my most significant source of pride is the working relationships I build in these partnerships as I support and help them to achieve their business goals. Creating clear expectations and building a relationship based on trust is vital for any PR professional/ account executive. 

When it comes to clarifying expectations with clients, here are my top four tips:

  1. Offer honest feedback

Imagine your client comes to a meeting and presents a program or story idea that they’re sure is a winner, yet the PR team feels less confident. Maybe the story idea isn’t compelling or timely enough to capture media attention. In that case, it’s the job of the PR professional to know what makes a story interesting, as well as when it is most relevant to current news cycles and trends. The PR team’s job is then to manage expectations and explain to the client how this process works. In these situations, it’s my responsibility to be completely authentic and to give them my honest opinion.

There is the misconception that PR is all about spin, but when it comes to working directly with a client you must be completely transparent and authentic. For example, if a client comes in with a bad idea, break it down and be prepared to meet them in the middle. Bring in supporting information and be ready to offer them a different story idea, or at least an alternative way to present the information they want to convey, such as restricting a topic to social media or digital communications like email marketing. Offer a solution they can get even more excited about than their initial idea.

  1. Communicate what information can or can’t be covered, when, and why 

As a PR professional, your job is to provide the client’s information to the outlet and its audience. There needs to be an understanding of how specific the client can get, what information can be shared, as well as any limitations on what they or the outlet can share.

I once had a client in the process of a partnership agreement. Because of legalities around this, they couldn’t have any media coverage during that time, and if there was, there were strict guidelines on discussion topics. There were restrictions on what they could and couldn’t publicly say. When they were needed for commentary, I had to either push back interviews or offer a new story.

Putting out the wrong information at the wrong time could cause a breach of contract terms, which could create ramifications for both the client and PR team. It’s vital that the PR representative fully understand and communicate any potential limitations to the client. Again, it goes back to building a foundation of trust with your client and working to protect their best interests. 

  1. Flag challenges that could impede success

As a publicist, be honest about why a story is likely to be unsuccessful. Perhaps the story has a flat angle, making it unappealing for news outlets. Maybe it’s an election year, there’s other breaking news in circulation, or the coverage simply doesn’t align with what is trending in the news media. The pandemic is an excellent example of this because it changed the way people looked at media and interacted with messages, especially soft news and pop culture.

t’s the publicist’s job to build a relationship of trust so that the client knows you’re doing what’s best for their business. I believe in the age-old saying “offering solutions, not problems.” Instead of ending the conversation by letting a client down, offer a way to mention what they want to focus on in a broader and more interesting story.

For instance, the most common angle that is exciting for a business, but not necessarily the media, is a website update. My advice is to offer an alternative, trending story angle, and in the end of the article or interview, mention that the website was rebranded.

  1. Not everything is about mass coverage

We’re always working toward the win for our clients, but that win can come in different forms. For example, maybe your client’s business is a specific tech business that offers an innovative product. Let’s say that this product lends itself to a niche publication with an audience of  2 million passively engaged readers. But what about placing them in a niche publication of 300,000 actively engaged readers to focus on their target audience?

Choosing the larger publication will get the client’s message heard, but landing them a niche publication that brings that message to a higher volume of actively engaged readers allows them to connect with the right people who are more likely to take action on the content. 

Perhaps setting up a brand partnership, sending products to influencers for review, or getting the client on an instagram live or webinar could be other methods to benefit them. Getting your client visibility and getting them in front of the right people can be more valuable than getting mass coverage.

Putting it all together

Being a good publicist takes organization, time management, preparation, planning and effective networking and relationship building. The most crucial element is building client relationships on a foundation of trust. The only way to accomplish this is not through spin, but through honest communication and getting to know your clients well enough to know what will serve them and their brand while garnering them the publicity most effective for their messaging. 

Hollie Boodram is a public relations account strategist at OtterPR working with an array of industries spanning from business, and tech to beauty and fashion. 

Topics: PR


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