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November 5, 2014
Client Expectations: How PR Can Manage…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity...

Charles Dickens’ famous opening to A Tale of Two Cities provides a fitting summation of the state of public relations today, where much time and treasure is invested in winning new business — from prospecting through gratis programs and budget development to the creation of a campaign timeline and agreement on analytic metrics. Unfortunately, a PR practitioner’s hard work can quickly be undone should the agency fail to effectively manage the new client's expectations.
This all-too-familiar scenario is the result of longstanding misconceptions as to what exactly a PR strategy entails, how it is implemented, its contribution to added brand value, and the role required of the client as a partner in the process. Many negative perceptions surrounding PR derive from a poor understanding of what PR is (influencer) and isn’t (sales machine), what it can deliver (thought leadership, awareness) and what it cannot (direct ROI). Helping clients understand the process will dramatically improve the client/agency relationship and their satisfaction with your services.
Front Page News — Not!
Despite what new clients may expect, generating major media coverage a week, or a month, into a PR campaign is the exception. Instead, a client should expect to receive a consistent string of media hits (mostly singles and a few doubles), which typically begin in the client’s industry publications and radiate to business and general readership media over time. In the long run, a strategy that emphasizes trade press first is more realistic, and media coverage there delivers better value as to client image, business leads and enhanced thought leadership.
To help PR practitioners maximize their productivity while minimizing client drama as to their “Great Expectations,” the following tips may be helpful.

  • Defining the Media Space
It’s important to understand a client’s expectations, and insure that they understand the goal and possibilities before launching a campaign. Do they expect a feature in BusinessWeek next week or an invitation to appear on The Today Show? Is their story newsworthy or visual enough to appeal to these outlets, or should you first concentrate on the industry media group? Get agreement up front as to the target media space, or suffer the consequences.
  • Location, Location, Location
Like a good real estate broker, PR pros must demonstrate a solid understanding of the media space, its hierarchy of interests and decision-making process, story development cycle, etc. And while publishing opportunities are rapidly expanding online, one still faces much competition to be featured. Clients need to understand that building relationships with the media is an ongoing process that may pay dividends immediately, but more likely will do so once your client has demonstrated he/she is an expert source.
  • Timing is Everything
Your client may feel the need to secure publicity in the next month or two, while you believe the strongest chance of securing coverage may be three months out, coinciding with a conference or theme issue. Remember, not all prospects are in the market for your client’s product or services today, nor does the media dance to your client’s drummer. To maximize success, PR efforts must be consistently maintained rather than single shot.
  • Return on Investment

How the PR firm defines return on investment (ROI) with each client, and how outcomes are measured, will make or break the campaign, and the relationship. Collaboration with the client on success metrics is crucial. Unfortunately, not every client’s baby (story) is headline-worthy. However, if the client agrees with the average coverage generated per release/pitch based on the agency’s historical performance, they will be more receptive to receiving your invoices.
Beyond Publicity
Mid-market companies typically retain PR agencies to generate press coverage, but publicity is only one element among many PR deliverables. The PR firm must educate clients to its full range of services, from managing social media to providing briefings on emerging communications platforms to offering counsel on how to integrate press coverage into marketing outreach programs.
A Trusted Counselor
When you offer a client marketing advice and business counsel, you become a valued partner. Such open dialogue helps establish the respect needed to ensure successful project management. If you fail to deliver your professional point of view, your "yes man" status will ultimately be your undoing.
Listen Actively
Active listening is a poorly understood tool in managing client relationships. Many clients are unsure of what they need to say or have difficulty articulating their proposition. That places the burden on the PR pro’s ability to identify and to effectively package content. During client conversations, try repeating key points they have made and ask them to confirm the accuracy of these takeaways. Demonstrating an understanding of their position will favorably impact expectations and streamline the outreach process.
Anyone who has worked in PR quickly realizes that each client presents a unique personality, and that quickly gaining an understanding of their business is crucial. Do what you must to build trust. Get out of the office for coffee or lunch, visit their offices regularly, increase face-time, and maintain frequent communication via their preferred channels. But above all, pay respectful attention to their perspective, listen carefully, and engage in empathetic two-way conversations. Then get out there are pitch away.

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Len Stein founded Visibility Public Relations to position the full spectrum of creative marketing services companies for industry thought-leadership. 

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