Just like the adage, “you will have only four great teachers in your life,” you may have only a handful of great clients. But these are the clients for whom you would walk over hot coals. What makes them great? If you are lucky, you will work with a client who will:
1. Think like a businessperson. Know the organization as well as you possibly can. Know its competition, its business prospects, its hopes and dreams. Know how it has done financially, where the warts are, where the stars live. Know how to get things done, whether in the executive suite or the mailroom.
2. Know what PR can do – and what it cannot. PR is an excellent tool for some corporate and marketing challenges – and not for others. PR programs can take time to produce results, and there are no guarantees. Some tasks deserve lots of time and thought, while others do not. The better you know your craft, the better manager you will be.
3. Know the agency’s “sweet spot,” and then take advantage of it by exercising it consistently. Great clients assign agencies work that they want and like. Challenge them when appropriate to do something unexpected, just to keep it interesting.
4. Develop a trusting relationship. This is the most important. Provide all the relevant information you can. Introduce your team to all program participants. Empower your team to work directly with spokespeople and the media. Enable their success as best you can. Understand what they need to do an outstanding job, and then provide it. Don’t assume you are being ripped off. If you are dissatisfied with anything, tell them quickly and expect it to be resolved. If it is not resolved, communicate that, too. Do not sit on disappointment.
5. Give clear direction. Make the scope of the assignment clean and tight. Understand the economics of what you’re buying and how the agency makes money. Be a coveted client. Keep a dialogue going of what’s working and what’s not on both sides.
6. Set priorities jointly, often. Make sure that the tasks being accomplished are stacked against the business goals and communications strategies of the organization. Don’t give the agency more work than they are being paid to do. If you put a new assignment on the list, compensate accordingly – either increase the budget or try to take something else off. And make sure the focus remains on the high value activities.
7. Eliminate bottlenecks. Don’t leave the agency hanging, waiting for direction, information, or approval. Get out of their way – trust them to make judgments and close deals. Don’t expect or require them to go through you all the time, or to get your sign-off at multiple checkpoints, unless it’s absolutely necessary.
8. Have an opinion, but be open to new ideas. Stay reasonably up to date on trends in communications. Tell your agency that you are open to new ways of thinking, best practices from other organizations. But don’t completely rely on your agency for strategy. Because you are the one in charge, you need to give the agency direction about what works best for your organization.
9. Manage the politics. If your internal clients are playing politics, shield the agency from it as much as possible. Warn them of potholes they may stumble into. Don’t make the power structure of the organization the “hero.” Make sure that your priorities match the business objectives, and have the courage of your convictions. Senior management trusts you because you are the communications
professional – give them counsel based on your knowledge, not on what they want to hear.
10. Be nice. Be honest. Say thank you. Treat the agency team like human beings. Forgive them when they make mistakes. Don’t belittle them to make yourself feel important. And when they do great work, tell them how much you appreciate it!
Developing a strong agency/client relationship takes time, and does not happen overnight. But it is an excellent career investment. Here’s why:
- It helps you accomplish more and be more valuable to your employer.
- Loyal, effective agencies are more fun to work with.
- It leverages your time so that you can focus on what you do well.
- It gives you a hands-on experience of teamwork.
- You can learn from people with different skills.
- Your efforts make more overall impact on the businesses you serve.
- It provides excellent experience in managing people and projects.
- Managing agencies is a core skill for senior communicators.
- Corporate people move to agencies and vice versa.
- A strong professional network is an important career asset.
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