Clients: Wait, We Have to Manage that Relationship, too?
January 14, 2011
— E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, ImPRessions, public relations, tips
By Bryan Blaise
Editor’s note: Bryan Blaise is a graduate of the University of South Florida and is currently a senior account executive at GolinHarris Chicago.
So your professors have likely spent hours on theories for managing public perceptions, communication campaigns and possibly even your senior management (if you’re pursuing a business minor or double major). However, one critical relationship is largely overlooked in the classroom — the client.
While agency life isn’t a requirement for a successful public relations career, many practitioners spend some part of their time within a global or boutique agency setting. And serving multiple clients successfully is a skill that can always be improved, like writing. Doing it well early on in your career is one way to quickly increase your responsibility, skill set — and paycheck.
Here are some insights I’ve learned over the past four years working with clients at AT&T, McDonald’s and other major corporations and non-profits. Practice them now at ImPRessions or outside internships, and set yourself on an even faster path to success for your clients and your career.
1. Presentation and Packaging
As junior staff, client interaction and management typically starts on projects and is largely supervised. Yet here is your chance to shine. Take a look at how documents and account communications (typically e-mails) are currently submitted. Are they as polished and professional as possible? Taking the extra time to submit your project’s work in brand-appropriate templates with pre-written correspondence your client can simply cut and paste goes a long way. We live in a visual world, one where even a simple color treatment and company logo gives your project’s everyday materials greater attention from clients and supervisors.
2. To-Do Lists and Order Taking
While prioritizing and efficient time management are paramount to surviving agency life, to-do lists can also become detrimental to junior account staff’s client management. Nothing requires that your client be strategic. Simply executing against a million client requests (or more senior staff members’ for that matter) makes you an order-taking worker bee, not the strategic counselor you’re working toward. Always take the time to examine a request within the context of the broader business/brand goals or contractual scope of work. If it’s not strategic or less of a priority than originally described, immediately bring it up with your supervisor and work on helping your client reprioritize or scrap the request.
3. Counseling from the Cube, Not Couch
Once you have regular e-mail and phone interactions with clients, it is critical that you’re continually providing sound strategic counsel. Sometimes this can be prepared with senior account leaders prior to a call or meeting. Other times, you’ve got to step up to the plate and deliver your solid perspective alone from your cube. While this is most difficult when you disagree with a client’s request or approach, simply engage in dialogue around the issue and provide alternative solutions. Again, they’re paying you for counsel AND execution, not just the latter. It’s best to always recap these discussions and final decisions in an e-mail to your client, copying relevant managers and team members.
4. Connecting the Dots
Beyond bringing your client perspectives and insights from the industries in which they operate or influence, sometimes client management requires connecting the dots within their own organizations. Especially on large account teams, you may hear of other departments’ plans or programs that could benefit or hinder your client’s. Speak up and suggest a meeting for all agency and client parties to get on the same page. You’ll quickly gain the respect of your client, colleagues and other clients with whom you don’t even support. Always remember to loop in senior account managers, who can engage agency thought leaders and provide their support on major initiatives.
5. Knowing Your Client Personally
Clients, just like your first grade teacher, go to the grocery store and have lives outside of work, too. When appropriate, try to find out their interests and background. Share yours, as well. While you should always remain professional in communication and action, developing a friendly relationship with your client beyond a project’s execution is critical.