Business partnerships — like all partnerships — are a two-way street.
I have been working in PR for a long time. And one of the things I have witnessed is how often companies will hire agencies — PR, advertising, marketing, etc. — and then just sit back and take a passive role. They expect things to happen on their own. They believe, since they hired the firm, that it’s the firm’s responsibility to deliver all of the results (which it is) without their input and involvement (which it’s not).
I recently wrote a piece about how clients can get the most out of their PR agency. But here, I’d like to take the opposite perspective and talk about what agencies appreciate most about their favorite, longest-standing clients. Because when a great agency partners with a great client, and both are mutually invested in the relationship, that’s what creates the strongest long-term relationship and drives the best results.
And that’s why we’re here!
So, here’s what a great client looks like from the perspective of an agency owner.
1. The client is as clear as possible about what they are trying to achieve.
As the owner of a PR agency, this is priority number one.
We can’t help you if we don’t know what you want. And we can’t live up to your expectations if we don’t know what your expectations are in the first place.
The best clients articulate their objectives and play an active role in explaining why they’re entering into a business relationship with an agency to begin with (opposed to offloading the task onto a junior associate who is then responsible for figuring it out as they go). The reason this is so important is because then the agency can say, yes, this is realistic, or no, that’s not. Being clear about objectives, having open and honest conversations, and making sure you’re both on the same page from the beginning is usually what dictates whether this becomes a beneficial partnership or a short-term project.
2. The client knows what they don’t know and defers to the agency’s expertise.
I can’t tell you how many times we have worked with clients who say they want our expertise in PR, but then end up pushing their own “creative ideas.”
This is very common across creative fields like advertising, marketing, and PR, and while many times clients do have great ideas, they don’t always have a sense of what will work from a PR standpoint.
Part of hiring an outside agency is recognizing this is not your core expertise. And the way you get the most out of your agency partners is trusting them to do what they do best — no different than how your own customers trust you to do what you do best. If this is not the case, then you aren’t really getting the most out of your agency partners.
(And by the way, sometimes clients come up with great ideas that have real PR potential and we run with them!)
3. The client actively participates in status calls, reading status reports, and asking questions.
The best clients participate as a collaborative partner.
They show up informed, the same way they would expect the agency team to show up having done their homework. They keep their finger on the pulse, they ask questions, they seek to be part of the process, they dig in. They are open to brainstorms and problem-solving when we aren’t getting traction with our first pitch idea or something isn’t resonating with media. They are open to hearing that the media isn’t interested in their product or service and are up for being part of the process as we get creative about how to make the message more compelling.
If the relationship you have with your agency is a passive one, it’s likely to be a short relationship.
4. The client is transparent about what’s happening within the business.
An agency can only be helpful to the degree in which it truly understands what is happening.
The more we know, the more likely it is that we can be true business partners and operate in a strategic and business-minded way (which will ultimately help us generate the best results).
So often there are things happening within the company that the client might not even realize is PR-able, so if we have access to the information, we can flag that it is and run with it.
A valued gesture here is to invite the agency to come meet other members of the team, understand how the business works, its history, and take the time to educate and empower them about the inner workings of the company.
5. The client gives a primary point of contact.
We’ve all experienced the “too many cooks in the kitchen” way of working. And, with too many cooks in the kitchen and no lead chef, mayhem ensues.
When working with an agency, it’s super helpful for the client to assign a lead point of contact to guide the agency. Someone they can email or call when they have questions, need a piece of information, or just want to share some good news. If you supply the agency with an overworked, stretched-thin point of contact, communication will falter. And if you supply the agency with five different people, all CC’d on one big email chain, communication will also falter because nobody takes responsibilty.
A clear chain of command in terms of decision making on the client side with a primary agency contact makes a tremendous difference in setting things up for success.
6. The client shows gratitude when things go well.
This is true for any business relationship (or again, any relationship).
When things go well, let the people you are working with know. Remember, agencies work day and night to make their clients happy. They work long hours, off hours, and oftentimes weekends. And they are always thinking of ways to bring more attention to their clients and the work they are doing. A little appreciation goes a long way.
Plus, the healthier the relationship and the more positive energy there is, the more likely your agency partners will be thinking about you fondly off-hours (is there such a thing?) and this might just result in ideas!
7. The client is a proactive problem solver.
I recently had a client who was struggling with one of our team members. It was a personality issue, and for whatever reason, the two were having a hard time hearing each other. The client recognized this might become a longer-term problem, kindly reached out to me in a supportive and transparent way, and together the three of us were able to resolve the issue. Now, their relationship is stronger than ever — largely because of his self-awareness and ability to handle it with such grace.
The worst thing that can happen is you receive an email from a client who is unhappy, and there wasn’t any sign of it in the consistent and ongoing communication over the course of months. It comes as s surprise and at that point, it’s often too late to solve it. Alternatively, if you are able to pick up the phone and be proactive about whatever it is you are feeling, that’s what a partnership and relationship-building is all about.
Getting ahead of problems is what allows long-term relationships to flourish.
(And by the way, one of the reasons it was easy to write this article is because of how wonderful our clients are and that we truly are building long-term, meaningful relationships that make the work a true pleasure!)