Sometimes when you land a new PR client, it’s easy to make a relationship misstep. Not everyone understands media, for example, or even what they want to accomplish with media. So how do you prepare for client literacy and building a good rapport? Your job, after all, is to be a strategist.
Here are a few suggestions:
• When you start the review conversation about the potential work, you can ask them to complete a short survey with some direct questions. One example I use in initial conversations is this – In the best of all worlds, where you would you like your brand to be? One answer I received: Endorsed by Oprah in her magazine. Be real with your prospects about what they can likely achieve. If they’re based in the real world, they are likelier to say something like: I’d like to be featured in my local business publication. Or, I’d like to know why ABC reporter doesn’t cover what I do.
• If literacy is really low, you can provide them a communications toolbox list with definitions so they understand, for example, the difference between a news release, a pitch, an advisory or a targeted Tweet. I once used the term “budget meeting” with a new client. They nodded politely – but asked: What is a budget meeting? So don’t use your media jargon – budget meeting, presser, editorial calendar, etc. Instead of establishing your expertise with PR talk, it may make you seem unreachable.
• Listen first, teach later. Examples work the best. Telling a client they aren’t where they need to be with media is a downer. They already know this or they wouldn’t have called/hired you. Also, tell by showing. Give one quick example of what can be done and show a positive – or a result. Results speak louder than any comprehensive communications plan. Give them the best foot up.
• Don’t join in the noisy conversation these days damning the press. And don’t damn a former agency or practitioner. If a client comes in with a negative attitude about the state of current media, or examples of agency or practitioner relationships that haven’t worked in the past, you’re getting red flags. Crisis communications is another area where a relationship can quickly go south. Try to explain the demands and constraints that media face every hour of the day. It’s an education process after all.
• If you feel a client’s knowledge base is too limited to be able to make a difference, it’s your call on whether to accept a contract and do the work. Even when I decline work, I usually explain why – and try to offer alternatives – both for external choices or internal changes. One hour of your time may help them down the road and they may not forget the favor.
Help when you can.
And remember that if you have a prospective client that you turn down, ask about making a referral. If you have someone in mind who could be a better fit, ask that individual BEFORE making the referral. Why? You’ve already uncovered some challenges and potential relationship difficulties. Don’t put a fellow practitioner in a similar spot.
In closing, I also like this advice from Author/Podcaster Mark C. Crowley – “Next time you have a meeting with someone, wow them by saying, ‘Before we get down to business, first tell me how you’re doing.' "
As always, don’t forget to make your brand and practice a priority, too. Sometimes we forget to do so in serving our clients. Here’s to successfully flying solo!