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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.