Many of the employees I hire at my agency graduated from college with a degree in public relations, demonstrating an understanding of the technical requirements of the trade. Other team members studied journalism or graphic design or other disciplines.
But “book smart” isn’t the same as “street smart”—or, in the case of agency work, “client smart.”
Ultimately, understanding how to work well with clients is the most important agency skill of all and it’s one that’s picked up on the job. It’s a talent some acquire more naturally than others. Some of us are just better with people, while others seem to have to practice and prepare for every conversation.
Regardless of your predisposition, building and maintaining good client relationships are vital to agency success. Here are three tips for doing it right:
1. REMEMBER WHY THEY HIRED YOU
When it comes to marketing, clients are typically results-oriented and have high expectations of your work. So, the first step in good client relations is delivering on those expectations.
At the start of any new client relationship, review the company’s business and marketing goals and discuss a strategy to help them achieve those goals. We’ve found this approach to be far more rewarding (for both parties) than promising a list of deliverables and checking them off as we go. This way, if a client comes to you with a new request, you can use your expertise to counsel them on the best approach to meet that need while also staying focused on the larger goals. After all, isn’t that why they hired you?
You not only want your clients to look good to their customers, but you also want to help your client contact look good to their boss and the rest of the company. In order to do so, provide high-quality work that’s focused on achieving goals. And if your client isn’t thinking about goals, it’s your job to help them move in that direction.
2. OVERCOMMUNICATE AND ANTICIPATE NEEDS
Delivering quality results is a process that takes time. That’s why another key component of strong client relations is communication. Clients shouldn’t have to ask for status updates on a project. Instead, you should be proactively communicating about both challenges and successes.
It’s particularly important to communicate with a client when the plan or timeline changes. Always try to take possible roadblocks into account and build in a buffer to ensure your work is delivered on time or ahead of schedule—but sometimes delays can’t be avoided. In those instances, let the client know about a potential timeline shift at the first sign of a delay. This allows them to adjust plans accordingly.
In addition to keeping the client updated on your progress, you need a strong understanding of what’s taking place within the company. For example, if a company-wide meeting is coming up, look for ways to provide support from a reporting perspective. By anticipating needs, you can help make your clients’ lives easier while demonstrating your value as an agency.
3. DON’T NEGLECT THE RELATIONSHIP
Since our work revolves primarily around providing a finished product or achieving a particular result, it’s easy to lose sight of the most important aspect of client relations: the relationship itself. In addition to providing great service to clients, we should be focused on fostering a strong relationship with every phone call, meeting, and email.
While some clients may be focused strictly on business, when possible, try to learn a little bit about their preferences, habits, and interests. In the same way that a sales team uses a customer relationship management tool such as HubSpot or Salesforce, take note of particular details to make sure you’re keeping your clients happy. Do they hate opening attachments or prefer Zoom calls or Slack messages over emails? Keeping track of these preferences can go a long way in building a positive relationship with your clients.
Having insight into a client’s personal preferences also supports efforts to “surprise and delight” your clients. Do they like a particular brand of coffee or wine or have a favorite restaurant nearby? Whether the client’s budget is big or small, it’s important to make an effort and show that you value them as a customer.
If client relations is an afterthought, you’re not going to get far in the agency world. While the caliber of our work is important, if the client can go somewhere else to get the same services, they just might. Having a strong relationship with a client gives you staying power and helps grow business through referrals and word of mouth.
The PR and marketing business is not unlike a restaurant—if the food is good but the service is terrible, you’re not going to keep many customers.
Scott Baradell is CEO of Idea Grove, a unified PR and marketing agency, and editor of the online publication Trust Signals.