Earlier this year I realized that 2016 marks my 20th year in high-tech PR. As an agency “lifer,” I’ve learned a lot along the way on what makes a successful, collaborative client engagement (and what doesn’t). One of the most important – and most difficult – things to learn was how to first meet, and then set client expectations. Here are a few things to think about as you onboard clients that can lay the foundation of a healthy client-agency relationship, starting with the all-important kickoff meeting.

Get in Agreement
It’s impossible to manage a campaign or project effectively, if there isn’t alignment on what we’re working to achieve. Referring to these objectives more frequently than your quarterly or bi-annual reviews ensures that they are top of mind for everyone. Also, agree also on the rules of engagement. Knowing how a client likes to work, setting clear expectations on team and client responsibilities and outlining how your team operates goes a long way in avoiding miscommunication and misalignment.

Provide Perspective
While it would be fantastic if every client had a clear understanding of how the media work and what makes a story, that’s often not the case. Even for PR-savvy clients, the media environment changes so rapidly that what worked for last year’s – or last month’s – campaign likely won’t resonate in the same way today. Helping clients understand the steps necessary to generate genuine media interest and results can be tricky, but it’s key to establishing a healthy and successful engagement.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
PR teams should be flawless communicators given what we do for a living, but we’re human. We can forget a conversation. We can mis-hear or misunderstand something. A good PR team will provide frequent, consistent updates on the progress of any given project. Maintaining transparency on successes – and challenges – ensures that there are no surprises and that agency and client stakeholders can pivot when needed to enable stellar results.

Underpromise, Overdeliver
I’m not suggesting sandbagging goals to blow your metrics out of the water. It’s more about surprising and delighting clients, proactively bringing them ideas and opportunities that they don’t expect. Be clear on what the team – and can’t – accomplish on its own, and what the team will need guidance or content from the client side. Setting realistic goals and establishing a track record of delivering quality results ahead of schedule can buy some leeway when circumstances force a missed deadline.

There are different approaches and additional steps you can take in setting client expectations. What are yours? I’d love to hear them, so feel free to add to the comments below!

Leslie Clavin
Vice President


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