PR requires teamwork!

The past couple of weeks have flown by with several interesting meetings, projects and events keeping me busy.  As a consultant and PR generalist, I tend to work with medium and small organizations, many of whom are incorporating public relations strategy for the first time. I spend a significant portion of my time with new clients educating them on what PR is and what they can expect from me as a consultant. I am very honest with people (a given, right?) and one thing that I always emphasize is this: You have to be a good client for me to be a good consultant.

Most laugh, but then I take some time to clarify what it means to be a good client because many people do not understand that they (themselves, their team, their company) are part of what makes my work successful. In reality, I can only do my part (which is the bulk of the heavy communications lifting,) but the clients’ actions and attitudes make a huge difference. This may seem obvious, but client reactions and actions have an impact on my success. If the client drops the ball or fails to respond instead of jumping in and participating enthusiastically, the results are affected.

In a dozen or so years of communications work, I have seen this play out in many different scenarios.

For example, let’s say (as a totally fictional scenario) leadership loves the idea of PR, but the team doesn’t stand behind it, so slowly, things start getting dropped. Emails go unanswered. Requests and approvals take longer. Evaluations become lukewarm. Suddenly, my work is not up to speed. I have to push harder to get to where we need to be, often swimming upstream against a tide of nay-sayers.

On the other hand, if the team is dying for support and direction (they’re overworked or don’t know what to do) and a consultant like me comes in as a leader for the team, suddenly the energy increases, we start to work synergetically and the C-suite gets the great results they have been looking for. That’s my favorite scenario, but it does not always happen that way.

I have engaged with organizations in similar situations described above and frankly, my work and effort was the same in each case, but the quality and the results were not. The sad-sack team didn’t feel they were getting what they paid for, but the upbeat team loved my work and recommended me to others.

I did not change, but the perception was different in both situations. I applied the same level of skill and experience, the difference being that what was happening internally at each organization had an effect on the process and therefore the results.

Now, of course, all of my current clients are fabulous, but just in case there are potential PR clients out there that need the help of a PR professional, here is what I would recommend to make sure you are doing your part.

  1. Know your PR person. Are their skills and experience a match to your organization and do they apply to what you are trying to do? Clarify this upfront, so surprise expectations don’t pop up later. Interview several people or agencies so you get a feel for how others respond to what you are asking for.
  2. Know your industry. What is typical in healthcare may be totally out of line for fashion. The basics of good PR always apply, but are you looking for specific results that apply to your arena? Your PR pro is there to help manage expectations, but having a clear understanding of the playing field will be an advantage.
  3. Know your company. Seriously study your internal operations and culture before you invite someone in. It is possible that some housekeeping needs to be undertaken before the guests arrive. Is the executive secretary who is completely overworked or the snarky VP of Operations who makes grown men cry the best option to be the main contact for your PR agency? Probably not. Find the most senior person in the organization that supports PR to act as the liaison that to communicate both into and on behalf of the organization. To me this should always be the CEO, but another C-suite executive is a good match.
  4. Know your financial limits. You may feel comfortable paying for the necessary fees related to hiring a PR pro/agency, but if you have a strict budget with zero wiggle room, but then want hours of additional work or outsourced add-ons (such as print or web design) you will be faced with a huge reality check fast. Make sure you understand what services you will be billed for (printing, wire services, travel.) and what other costs might be incurred.
  5. Know when to participate. Do not do the equivalent of a hit-n-run when you hire a PR pro.  It is not a one-time meeting and then send them off to the races so you can get back to work. Your PR agency will be pushing you to engage. If you are hoping to just hand it over and walk away, you need to make a mental adjustment. You have to pay enough attention to be in a position to recognize when things are going well or if you may need to step in to make minor adjustments.

PR pros often work as solo-practitioners, but they are not lone wolves. As the client you have to work together as a team, and although you rely on them to produce results, your participation and attendance is required.

11 thoughts on “The 5 Rules of How to be a Good Client

    1. Lisa ~ I have heard some say that client relations is the hardest part of managing a professional services business and on certain days I completely agree. Most days, for me, it is the best part. If I am really a good match for my client and vice versa, then we will approach things with the same level of passion, which I think applies to any profession.

      Thanks for your comments.

  1. Here’s an example of clear, concise writing run amok. In a good way, of course.

    I tell students and clients the same thing: you save the world one audience segment at a time, or at least engage a specific public to move an action in small, easily-digestible bits.

    See, what gets missed is exactly what Jules gets at here: the reciprocal relationship between a practitioner and the client. This goes for teaching, public safety, education and just about any other field where folks are required to internalize information, sift the pertinent data, develop a plan and make good decisions within the scope of the plan where possible. Freelancing in the service of the ultimate aim can work as circumstances dictate, but sticking to the plan and deploying it enterprise-wide tends to produce the best results, at least in my experience. Whoever heard of a cook baking without proper ingredients and tools? Jules makes the same point here, namely the PR chef is only as good as her client sous-chefs.

    1. Oh how I love to run amok! And the PR chef is nothing if the wait staff refuses to serve the food!

      Always glad you are here Benjamin.

  2. Love this post Jules!

    I had the chance to learn how to work for clients as an intern, and then I had to be the leader in working for clients with our PRSSA chapter. It’s tough, and your right, “you have to be a good client for me to be a good consultant.” We had open to any/everything and difficult clients, even as students ourselves. Big learning experience! I like that you touched on engagement. We work in PR, possibly the closest thing to miracle workers for your brand, but it can’t be just us! More clients need to the “help us help you” mechanism and give back some effort to support us as well.

    Great post!

    1. Thank you! Love that you had time to be here.

      There’s a funny line in the movie Jerry Maguire where ( Tom Cruise’s character keeps saying “help me to help you” over and over to his client. I worked for the company that did PR for that movie release and although I watched it about a million times, it wasn’t until years later that I understood the pleading in his voice.

      Luckily you caught on early in the game!
      Thanks for stopping by.
      ~ Jules

  3. It seems obvious that the whole team needs to back a PR plan, but it’s so true that it’s not always the case. It’s the responsibility of the company to communicate to the troops why the future direction is being taken so they understand and rally. Of course it’s also true you get what you pay for and we have all experienced that in some way. Thanks for the insight Jules!

  4. Yes, keeping the troops in line is right, Tami. I see some camo gear in your future!

    Not only do you get what you pay for, but you can maximize your investment by paying attention. A good PR person will remind clients of that when needed.

    So, so glad you are here!
    ~ Jules

  5. Pingback: PR Heaven « Public Relations From A to Z Group PR

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