How to be a PR Star: Don’t Make Yourself the Hero

Last week, I gave a training session to entry-level employees of our firm about delivering excellent client service. I spent a bit of time trying to recall my first impressions of what made clients happy. Is it saying “yes” to everything they ask? Is it getting great results for everything we do? Is it giving smart answers to every question that they ask or having the most creative ideas? What makes some PR professionals stand out?

The words of a former BlissPR client and marketing expert Dallas Kersey seem to summarize it perfectly: the best PR pros make the client look like the hero.

Yes, ladies and gents, that means putting some of your ego/pride aside. That doesn’t mean you can’t highlight your good work – but have a sense of boundaries. If you really want to shine, you find ways to put the spotlight on making others (i.e., the ones paying your bills) look good. And to be effective, you better know what makes them tick and how to make their bosses happy.

You don’t have to be superstar to help your client look like a hero. Some of the most useful pointers I’ve picked up from mentors over the years are quite simple:

  • Eliminate Surprises: While real super-heroes may have a sixth sense for trouble, in the business world, no one likes to be blind-sided. If something is awry, flag it immediately and come armed with possible solutions.
  • Listen: Know what keeps your client – and his/her boss – up at night. What are they most concerned about? What results please them the most? Have you asked them how you’re doing lately and then acted upon what they’ve said?
  • Ask Smart Questions: Last month, I heard Alan Hilburg, a renowned crisis communications expert and president and CEO of Hilburg Associates, speak at a PRSA luncheon in St. Louis. He has counseled C-suite executives at the biggest brands in the world. Yet, he joked about his low SAT scores entering college, claiming he would never consider himself a genius. His secret sauce? He asks smart questions. He challenges clients to think about things no one else has. I can still remember walking into the doors of BlissPR almost 9 years ago, overwhelmed by the thought that I’d have to know – and actually understand – everything about the insurance industry because of our clients. The sage advice I received, and now pass along to others, is that it’s not about being a know-it-all; it’s about understanding enough to ask the right questions. You’re in a unique position as a relative outsider to help clients think about scenarios they may not have considered.
  • Manage Expectations: Everyone is juggling a lot these days; the business mantra continues to be “do more with less.” If a client asks you to do 5 things, but you know you realistically can only do a bang-up job on 2 of them, why not have an honest conversation about it? When you help clients understand project challenges and what constitutes success at the outset, it helps alleviate disappointment along the way. They can then pave the way for appropriate conversations with their bosses. Wise people have taught me it’s best to err on the side of under-promising and over-delivering.
  • Communicate Often: Well, it is our business after all. If you’re not talking to your clients regularly, they don’t know what you’re up to. If they don’t know what you’re up to, then neither does others within their firm. That’s when questions start rolling in. There’s no hard and fast rule here other than to know how often people want to be communicated with – and do your best to anticipate and answer questions before they are asked. If you do, people may just call you a genius!
  • Earn Their Trust: You’ve heard the phrase “happy customers are loyal customers.” But to get to that happy place in a service business, you first need to establish trust. How? Don’t just give clients a satisfactory job; bring your “A” game. Take pride in your work and it will show. Your client asks for recommendations? Don’t just regurgitate a checklist of items; make it a thoughtful response. Beat deadlines. Go above and beyond sometimes. That’s what creates long-term relationships.

Earlier this week, a colleague shared an excerpt from the book “If Disney Ran Your Hospital” which seems particularly relevant as a closing thought: “It takes something memorable to turn an ordinary, satisfactory experience into something special…Loyalty is generated by memorable things that happen when we didn’t expect.”

Do you create memorable experiences for your clients? What pointers can you share? What experiences have you had – good or bad – that others can learn from?


To reach Kellie:

Twitter: @kshe
LinkedIn: Kellie Sheehan