How relationships between clients and PR agencies can thrive or nosedive

How relationships between clients and PR agencies can thrive or nosedive

Claire Walker

Claire Walker

Good news! The day you appoint an agency is the first day of a wonderful relationship.

Bad news! The day you start working together is a countdown to the day you fire that agency.

The “C” word is ‘complacency’, as agencies lose 80% of clients because they are seen as complacent.

Relationships ebb and flow and frustrations are felt on both sides. The challenge is to have those ‘difficult conversations’ with the client and with the team, to iron out issues and get on a corrective path together.

We are human and can make mistakes (once) while learning. But there is a huge difference between ignorance and complacency. Ignorance means “I don’t know”, but complacency means “I don’t care”.

We poll our client base every month on their level of satisfaction with us; it nips any frustration in the bud. We ask a different question each month and our clients rate our performance. On the rare occasion we receive less-than-positive feedback, it is an immediate call to action to get the relationship back on track as quickly as possible. We have a process to follow that ensures nothing is forgotten.

Our client of 12 years, Laurent M., greeted news of a departing Firefly and proposed new team member with thanks and enthusiasm. He thanked the departing team member for her support and dedication, and wished her well on her travels. He welcomed the new team member, saying he looked forward to “working together and clarifying any questions so we can all achieve objectives and deliver results”. The transparency, teamwork and shared appreciation between the client and the agency is the oil that keeps the machinery working at optimum speed and performance.

We are fortunate in that we have many clients coming back to us time and time again, taking Firefly with them as their careers develop and progress. Clients come back because they are treated well, listened to and enjoyed a good and productive relationship with us.

Complacency is what any agency must fight against, daily, and the warning signs are:

1.      Typos spell trouble.

The problem: A litany of typos, meaning that someone doesn’t care enough about the copy they send.

An Answer: Suggest the agency retrains the team, improves written quality standards, operates a three-strikes-you’re-out system, or hires a freelancer journalist as an internal copy editor.

2.      Boredom means predictable.

The problem: A dull proposal or plan means someone is not motivated to be thinking creatively about angles, insights or attention-grabbing opportunities.

An answer: Suggest the agency brings creativity and ideas from other teams on other clients, or brings in an independent creativity facilitator to bring forward those big or small ideas. Cultivate nightmare scenarios—“what if?” situations. Suggest the agency invites sceptical outsiders to contribute.

3.        Set or stuck in a routine.

The problem: Not finding areas to improve, however small, means that “we do it this way because this is the way we do it”.

An answer: Challenge the team and ask, “How could we do this ten times better?”—i.e. set outrageous goals. Or ask, “How can we move from good to amazing?”  Make people feel uncomfortable. People need to be challenged and made less certain. If it ain’t broke, then consider breaking it, to gain a fresh perspective on how it should fit together.

4.       Lacking ambition.

The problem:  Not suggesting or considering ideas that might be risky, but will reap rewards.

An answer: Suggest the agency stops ticking boxes and instead starts asking, “What other boxes should we be ticking?” Investigate how new tactics or technology could “alter our situation for the better or worse”. Benchmark against someone entirely different, especially if your present benchmark comparison merely reinforces your certainty.

The reality is that relationships will always hit a sticky spot; that is a certainty. At that point, both sides need to decide if they want to commit to a correction plan or call it a day. If it’s the former, it requires effort from both parties to turn the situation around. If it’s the latter, treat everyone with dignity and respect. It’s a small industry. What goes around comes around, and reputation is everything. We would say that, wouldn’t we?


We continue this discussion in PR Moment - check out the article here.

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