Top 5 Traits of the Best Client Relationships

Smart PR agencies know that level-setting on expectations, goals and metrics is key to a successful  client relationship. Whether it be at the onset of a new partnership (aka a company you’ve never worked with) or upon meeting a newly hired client contact for the first time, it’s important to understand what success looks like in order to align your strategy with business and marketing priorities.

While these high-level discussions are essential, it’s equally as important to discuss how to foster a productive and healthy client relationship. In an era where many PR agency and client relationships fail or are short-lived, understanding what you need from each other will make the partnership sing.

Healthy relationships help you reach goals, exceed expectations and grow in mutually beneficial ways. Here are five traits for clients to foster a great relationship with their PR agency:

1. In-person connection. PR agencies and client contacts are constantly communicating with people all over the world, oftentimes over the phone, without connecting face to face. It’s important to take time to regularly connect in person if you can. When that isn’t possible, use the first few minutes of each call to connect with each other on some level. Don’t just get on the phone and knock out action items — get to know each other, understand what makes each other tick, and connect to the person behind email.

2. Involvement early and often. From unique research to press releases to business goals to product messaging, it’s critical for agencies to be involved as early as possible to take an active role in mapping the path to success. Too often, the external agency is looped in once research, content and goals are completed only to be tasked with generating press or meeting expectations already set in stone. Including an agency partner in the development process can help drive content in a direction that’s mutually beneficial for internal and external purposes. Furthermore, the agency partner can help educate internal stakeholders around what assets are required to meet realistic expectations and ensure alignment across a company so that goals are met and everyone is happy.

3. Transparency. Being blindsided is never fun. PR agencies should be seen as trusted advisors. Disclose everything, even if it might be uncomfortable, and take advantage of the agency’s expertise. You can easily avoid communications missteps if everyone has information to make informed decisions from the start. For example, if your company’s valuation isn’t what it used to be, tell your agency before you announce funding. If employees aren’t happy with the work environment, tell your agency so they know not to pitch a culture story (or worse, submit you for a Best Places to Work list). Either one of those situations could result in publicly embarrassing situations, which are harder to recover from than prevent.

4. Cohesion. The PR team and internal employees should work as a cohesive team. The best clients remove barriers by allowing direct access to spokespeople, including their agency in internal conversations wherever possible, and removing layers of relaying information wherever possible. Why have three meetings when you could have one, right? As an agency, we’re often told how brilliant spokespeople are but frequently hear it through a marketing filter. Whether they be researchers, customers, founders, or executives, they know their areas of expertise better than anyone else. PR folks need to hear it, uncensored, to be able to pitch it (and the 10 other things they said in the same conversation that they didn’t think were interesting but may actually revolutionary). Having direct access to executives could be the difference between a business press story and a tier three hit. Removing barriers also boosts efficiency, so everybody wins.

5. Real and regular discussions. This goes along with the human element and maintaining transparency. It’s important to self evaluate regularly. Understanding, in real-time, where the agency and the company collectively could be doing better, how we can replicate success, sharing internal and external feedback, should all be done honestly and frequently. This helps encourage alignment on expectations consistently so there aren’t any surprises at the end of the road.

Every PR agency and client partnership isn’t identical, but these characteristics have been key to my most successful clients programs. What has been most integral to your best client relationships? Tell me in the comments below!