"This business would be great if it weren't for the clients."
A partner at the PR agency where I got my first job made this statement. While not exactly encouraging for an aspiring professional to hear, I've heard it many times throughout my career. Of course, clients pay the bills and we couldn't exist without them, but having good ones makes a huge difference. This is particularly true in public relations, where your work is totally dependent on many different types of relationships. Making it more challenging is the fact that PR is one of the most misunderstood professions in the universe (my mother still doesn't understand what I do). Unless the client is very familiar with how it all works, they have no idea how much time and effort is involved just to get your client quoted in a newspaper or an influential blog. And that's just one aspect of what we do. Like any competent professional, we make it all look effortless, although it's anything but. A study released this week by CareerCast, finds 'public relations executive' the sixth most stressful job in America. An event planner (a PR function) is even more frazzled at number five. (Hint to massage therapists and companies that make anti-aging products: there are lots of well-attended PR conferences out there.)
Over the past several years, I have had the pleasure of doing PR for many great clients and some that are not so wonderful. One long-term client is a brilliant communicator -- she tells me what I need to know before I even know that I need to know it. She is also appreciative and actually asks me if I got my last check. I would walk through fire for her! At the other end of the spectrum, a very demanding client had such wildly unrealistic expectations, it was comical. It wasn't so funny when I did not get paid in full.
So as I plan my new business strategy for 2014, I've put together a list of "best client" common denominators. These are the people we should all strive to work with in the New Year:
- They respect what we do
- They are responsive
- They communicate effectively and keep us up-to-date
- They see us as partners
- They speak well of us
- They pay us on time
- Their expectations about what PR can do for them are realistic
- They provide feedback often
- They don't undermine your expertise by rewriting your press releases or articles
- They don't expect you to work for free
- They say "thank you."
The last one is simple, but incredibly effective. A tip to all clients everywhere: Expressing your appreciation for great service or work well done does not mean your consultants are going to get a swelled head and charge you higher fees. A "thank you" will not undermine your power over us or make you look weak. As professionals, we do our best work for all of our clients. But as human beings, it's the client who values us that we'll go the extra mile for every time.