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Do You Have an A+ in Client Education?
By: Elizabeth Friedland
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The agency/client relationship isn’t much different from a marriage. While both parties are on the same team and tirelessly working toward the same goal, friction inevitably arises when communication isn’t clear or honest. How can you avoid seeing the ugly side of this relationship? Thankfully, it’s easy: client education.
Client education isn’t implying clients are stupid; it’s acknowledging that they may not have the industry knowledge the agency possesses. This is especially true when your direct contact isn’t a CMO.
“I once had a client that kept asking me to edit the press release once it was already sent out, and I couldn’t understand why she felt I was able to edit something that was already pitched,” said one publicist who wishes to remain anonymous. “Then I realized that she thought there was some journalist-only website where we posted press release for the media to pick up. Once I clarified how we distribute press releases, she understood and knew to stop asking for edits once she gave approval.”
Another PR executive recalls a time when a client insisted on holding a press conference at 6 p.m. on a Friday in the fall — right when the local news teams are in the middle of a live broadcast and sending their extra crews to cover high-school football games. A simple explanation of the news cycle quickly changed the client’s mind and the press conference was set for 10 a.m. on a Wednesday.
While it’s always best to lay out the following points at the start of a relationship, it’s never too late to go back and elucidate your process. Make sure you client knows:
  • How does the pitching process works (How long does it take? Do you use phone, email, in-person, a combination?)
  • Whom the release will be sent to
  • What will happen if no one seems interested in the pitch
  • What kind of results can be expected from each campaign
  • How success and failure are being measured, tracked, and defined
  • What is needed and expected from them in each stage of the campaign
  • What to do if they’re contacted directly by the media
  • What the media landscape looks like for their industry or area (Who are the most important reporters and what are the viral outlets? When are the best/worst times for press events or pitching?)
It’s also important to communicate honestly with the client. If they’re insisting on a strategy that might backfire, have a poor reputation with the media, or want to send out a questionable press release, it’s the duty of the agency to advise them. Sure, it can be tough to break the bad news to or disagree with a client — especially one that’s new or is the majority of the agency’s billing. But clients pay agencies for their expertise, and sometimes that involves taking a stand.
Let’s face it — in the end, the agency will have to clean up whatever mess results from the client’s confusion or misdirection. It’s better to bite the bullet and make tough recommendations (or better yet, education them on strategy from the start) before a PR nightmare develops.

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About the Author
Elizabeth Friedland in Senior Digital Strategist, specializing in PR, at Hirons Advertising & Public Relations. To learn more than you ever wanted to know about her, visit www.elizabethfriedland.com.
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