Managing unreasonable client expectations is both a curse and a blessing for today’s PR agencies.
It’s a curse, because clients typically don’t know what we know—and explaining how the PR process works can be an uphill battle.
It’s a blessing, because that means we have clients (and revenue) coming in the door.
In a recent survey I conducted among 84 PR agencies and freelancers, managing client expectations was voted as the No. 1 issue that modern PR pros face. So, what can we do to better manage client expectations and reduce turnover?
Here are seven tips to get you on the right track:
1.Don’t be afraid to call the baby ugly. Clients don’t always know what’s best for their campaign—sometimes they need tough love to set things on the right track.
Their vision for the campaign might not be feasible (or could be completely outlandish), and it’s our job to tell them that upfront—preferably before we take their money.
Studies show that a little bit of transparency can go a long way in building client trust and loyalty. Madeline Johnson, PR pro and founder of the Market Council offers this advice:
I have been able to maintain long term [more than seven years] relationships with clients by partnering with them and being very, very straightforward and transparent with them. My secret sauce includes constant communication and reality checks with every encounter we have.
2. Make education a priority. People fear what they don’t understand.
There are many misconceptions about how PR works and what the underlying value is to a business. Educating your clients on the basics of a PR campaign—as well as on your internal processes—can mean the difference between happy and frustrated customers.
Bob Fisher of Los Angeles-based PR firm Fisher & Associates says:
Educate the client to the fact that much of what PR firms do is not guaranteed (e.g. getting media exposure or speaking engagements), unlike advertising. I analogize it to law which has no control over what a judge or jury will decide. If that isn’t clear to them, nothing else matters.
Before creating media lists for a client, conduct a client training and education call to get everyone on the same page and dispel rampant PR myths.
3. Define the client’s role in the campaign. Clients hire you to handle their PR and media outreach, but that doesn’t mean they can go missing in action.
Clients must know what their roles and expected levels of engagement are at the onset of campaigns. It’s your job to make them understand that if a valuable media opportunity arises and they’re nowhere to be found, the opportunity could be lost.
Tito Philips Jr of MADphilips Development Company agrees:
We let them know upfront that as much as we have a part to play in creating a 360-degree online presence for their business, they equally have a part to play. And we spell out their role for them.
4. Use case studies to paint a picture . No matter how many trainings or analogies you give, some people understand things better when they can see a real-life example or illustration.
You can use case studies to manage client expectations by painting a picture of what a successful PR campaign really looks like. Use past examples to illustrate what types of results they can expect from your services. It can put things in perspective.
5. Create a timeline for deliverables. Your clients should know what they’re getting from you—and when. Letting your clients go into a PR campaign completely blind is a dangerous game.
Flynn Zaiger, chief executive of Online Optimism in New Orleans, says:
Right from the start—included in your pitch to the potential client—you should let them know when they’ll be receiving things, and what they’ll be receiving. If a client is aware of where things stand (and when the next set of deliverables) will be coming, they’ll be less likely to reach out and distract you from actual work.
6. Do well what you set out to do. You can set expectations and create timelines all day long, but if you don’t deliver, your clients will be unhappy—and you’ll end up with a turnover problem.
Clients aren’t always to blame for PR campaigns gone terribly awry. Once you’ve gone to the trouble of educating your clients, defining their roles and creating campaign goals, it’s time to step up your game and deliver.
7. Create a schedule and encourage open communication. How often can your clients expect to hear from you? How often will you send them progress reports?
Communicate to your clients the answers to these questions from the beginning.
By encouraging questions and open communication, you set the right tone for your client relationships. If a problem does arise, your clients are more likely to be understanding if they feel that they can talk to you and work through the problem.
Acquiring new customers costs, on average, six to seven times more than it does to keep existing clients happy. Therefore, it makes sense to put a strategy in place for managing client expectations on every campaign.
Samantha Isdale of WPromote offers the following advice:
Too many marketers implement strategies because they’re “popular” or because they think they “should,” rather than considering how they play into the overall vision for the business. In order to be successful, you must stop to think about WHY you’re doing what you’re doing and HOW it will get you to your end goal. A marketing campaign without a clear vision or objective is a recipe for disaster.