There’s an overarching trend in the client service business. In fact, a week doesn’t go by in which I don’t have a similar conversation with a company in the throes of the agency search process. They need more brand awareness, their competitors are dominating the press, and their board wants to know what the plan is to change that. They’ve heard that SHIFT can solve the problem and they want to know what we’d do.
Me: “Why do you think you’re not currently getting the type of coverage you need and want?”
Prospect: “I have no idea. We have good spokespeople, our experts have bold opinions, and we’re doing something different in the market. But, time and time again, we see articles we should have been in or news we should have commented on. We need an agency that will push the ideas to us and be aggressive about getting us in the articles.”
When talking to prospective clients, their goals might be slightly different, but that last sentence is always the same. Whether the company’s current agency is underperforming or has a harried VP of marketing trying to do it all on their own, clients need a team that will take over, drive the PR program, and get it done right. Pure and simple.
When you work at a PR agency, you have to accept that you’re in a client service business. That means that clients hire us to solve their challenges, give them counsel, get the work done, and demonstrate dedication to their success. No one hires an agency to spend their time creating new storylines that can be pitched, finding new reporters to target, flagging breaking news articles, or asking for updates on action items.
Being in a client service business means we need to go above and beyond to get the coverage, the influencer relationships, the audience increases, etc. that our clients need. We need to genuinely care about the companies we work with. It means we don’t stop at the roadblock. We don’t rest on laurels. We don’t shirk the responsibility.
For anyone that wants to join a PR agency, it’s important to keep this in mind and determine if that’s how you operate. For anyone that already works at a PR agency, here are a few tips to ensure that you’re working at the level of commitment necessary within in a client service business:
1) Don’t stop at “No, that won’t work.” – Clients routinely update us on potential news, upcoming content, or other initiatives that their company is close to finalizing. During this time, they often want to know whether it’s press worthy. We should always give fearless counsel; if it isn’t newsworthy, it isn’t newsworthy. However, being in a client service business means we need to follow up such honesty with recommendations on what it will take to make it press worthy and then deliver the results.
2) Be Proactive. – Clients rarely have time to read the news throughout the day. Working in a client service business means that we always need to read the news and look for rapid response opportunities, longer-lead commenting opportunities, or new pitch ideas. PR pros that truly master exceptional client service also draft the comment for the client to approve and provide it when flagging the article. Have a client in a space that isn’t as sexy as other industries? Your job in a client service business is to find a way to tie that client into an interesting trend they haven’t heard of.
3) Be a mind reader. – There are few things that kill a good client-agency relationship faster than poor communication. Being in a client service business means that we need to anticipate a client’s next question (and the one after that) and communicate in a way that answers all possible resulting requests, concerns, and conundrums. Make it so easy on the client that all they have to say is “yes” or “no” and the relationship will go well.
4) Over-communicate. – For most of our day-to-day contacts, managing the PR team is just one responsibility on a very long list. Yes, the main priority for us is to secure editorial opportunities that are interesting, on message, and which will drive traffic to our client’s website. However, being in a client service business means that our job is to follow up and give updates along the way. This doesn’t just stop with editorial opportunities. Received constructive feedback to a pitch from a handful of trusted reporters? Share it immediately with the client. Equally important, give a recommendation on how to tweak the pitch to land ink, include a draft of the new pitch in your note, and provide the new media pitching plan at the same time (see #2 and #3 above).
5). Treat it like it’s your business. – We’ve all heard the sage advice about spending a client’s budget like it’s yours. Equally good is the advice that you should act like your client’s business is your own. As PR pros, we’re not charged with finding new technology partners or closing an important sales deal. Working in a client service business means that you care about the success of the organization so much that you go above and beyond to give them important counsel when entering a new market, prep them for a difficult interview, secure the business press hit that will drive website traffic, or review a business-critical press release at 11 pm (as well as #1 – #4 above) all day, every day.
It’s been long said that good service is good business, and that no doubt rings true at PR agencies. Exceptional client service not only keeps clients on an agency’s roster longer, it also leads to word of mouth referrals and strong PR program results. PR teams at agencies are only as strong as their weakest link so it is imperative that all PR pros understand what it takes to be in a client service business and accept nothing less than exceptional.