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4 Tips for Better Client Relationships
By: Mike Bush
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Last week, while being introduced to a new VP in my day job, a discussion of past roles came up (a typical introduction discussion, including things like "Where were you before joining the company?"). The new VP, like me, has been on both sides of the desk, agency and in-house, and when she asked what I thought the biggest differences were, I couldn't help but think there was a Flack Me post waiting to be written.

So, without further ado, here are my four things I wish I would have known when I was at an agency (and things you may be able to use in order to improve your relationships with your clients).

Please note: Anyone who spends a few minutes searching can find some of the vendors my company has engaged. The following post this isn't a dig on any of them.
  1. Lipstick on a pig is still on a pig. In a previous role, I had a boss who, when a press release looked like it was going to be an uphill climb for earned media, would force encourage the team to put together a list of media we had chatted with, and any possible feedback that might be out there (for example, a proactive pitch from two weeks ago that landed on a reporter's radar might be reiterated). These recaps were, in my agency days, the bane of my existence. Now that I am in-house, they're laughable. I'd much rather have an agency say, "We missed the mark this time, but we think there is a good reason to shift gears to something new immediately. Here are a couple ideas." While there is pressure to show value in the agency world, knowing when to stop using resources on one initiative in favor of another (especially when you're billing hourly) is an undervalued, underused form of value.
  2. Value is found everywhere. Speaking of adding value, there are a few dozen things your client may mention that fall squarely in the realm of “not what we do." Sometimes, you shouldn't take on something out of your wheelhouse (if your client is doing surveys on usability and that isn't a core competency, don't volunteer to be the point person*), but don't be afraid to step up when an opportunity presents itself. Client’s shooting a video in one of their locations? Send someone to be on site and serve as a gofer. Your client contact’s team is very small? Offer a proofreader, when appropriate.
  3. *Learning opportunities for the agency show you care about the client's business. If you're promoting a client in the widget-making business, and the client mentions a local show of widget makers, offer to send someone. If you're worried about the relationship, send a senior person. However, if you're in a good place with your client, send a junior person. That person can build their own relationship with your client (important for continuity in case of employee turnover), and it just might allow the junior-level rep to learn from someone else who has been at it for a while. A vendor I work with asked if I'd spend 30 minutes with an intern of theirs to talk about different communications career paths. I was flattered. That the intern (presumably) went back will a full-blown scouting report didn't matter. Intern win. Agency win. And client win (I was happy to discuss agency pet peeves I carry, and I’m guessing they were shared at the agency).
  4. I'm not your case study unless you ask me to be. This one irks me. I hired you to be my representative, not the other way around. Please don't include my name or my company on your website unless you get permission. Two things happen:

A) Similar-sized and larger competitors use it as a prospect list (you’ve just assured me of dozens of cold calls from companies that want to replace you); and

B) Prospective clients will call, perhaps unsolicited**. You wouldn’t send a spokesperson into a media interview without some background info on the opportunity. Why would you do the same when it is new business for your firm and not a reporter?

**I assure you, this happens more often than you’d think.

There are three follow up details to this one:

A) If I am happy with your work, I'll volunteer to be a case study or reference. I'll even ask what you'd like me to highlight.
B) Crises never end. This one hasn't happened to me in my current role, but there are a few clients for whom I was intimately involved in a crisis communications situation. Guess what? They still don't want to spread the word about what happened. Putting a case study about a crisis on your website and naming the client is both a way to turn off the (immediately former) client and prospective clients who may have challenges.
C) Pet-peeve alert. Put my name as the media contact, not yours. The internet writes in ink, and the number of times reporters have somehow found an agency with whom I haven’t worked in a half decade is very frustrating. The note above about prospective clients calling also holds. I’m not really interested in being a reference for a company I last worked with when Lebron James was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

These tips are based on my experience, and I openly admit that others may have had dissimilar or opposite experiences. Thanks for checking them out, and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. 

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About the Author
Mike Bush is a PR and Marketing freelancer with more than a dozen years of experience in the field. Find him on and connect Twitter @mikebush or at www.mikebush.nyc. 
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