Relationship Therapy: Creating Better Client-Marketer Engagements

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When people contact me for a PR Game Plan, they’ve often already reached a point of frustration. They’ve either tried to do it alone and were met with disappointing results, or have been disappointed by their expectations of a previous engagement with a PR firm.

When marketing professionals in my training workshops respond to my question, “What are your challenges?” they always, without exception, answer: “Our clients are never satisfied with all the work we do for them.”

I recently had a debate with a marketing friend over whether this problem could be solved by guaranteeing results. In fact, she wrote about it today, using the debate as an opportunity to create a teachable moment for all of you. I’m not hating: that’s exactly what I do. In fact, I’m doing it right now.

Her position: As a professional, and especially as a business owner, PR firms should be confident enough in their abilities and expertise to guarantee results.

My position: Business integrity means promising what you can realistically guarantee, educating your client on what to expect, and showing them how to improve their odds immediately and in the long run.

In my friend’s extraordinary branding business, she promises results: full branding including logo and website in less than a week. In my business, I have a similar promise: full promotional strategy, PR materials, and sustainable systems in less than a month.

But neither of us guarantee sales, that is: more customers, higher revenue, or media placements.

Can results be guaranteed? It’s a great sales strategy. We both agree that guaranteeing sales (or in the case of PR, media placements… which small business clients hope will lead to sales) would allow you as a service provider to raise your rates and rake in bigger clients, offsetting any refund you would have to give a client who didn’t get coverage.

But I am deeply uncomfortable with over-the-top or misleading promises that are made by businesses, salespeople, and service providers. We’re in a moment of hyperbolic sales promises. Consultants, professionals, and clients who say that their results are “transformational,” that sales will skyrocket, or using one-in-a-million client stories to suggest that the results will be similar for everyone is taking the easy way out and shows a disturbing lack of integrity.

Here’s the optimistic-yet-realistic truth:

Starting with the right strategy, the right team, the right materials, and the right systems will radically improve your odds of success.

Starting from that understanding, here are some concrete ways that both clients and marketers can create better engagements:

Clients: Understand whether your business is at a point where it makes sense to invest in outside marketing help.

In Small Business PR: Should You Hire a Publicist or Can You Do It Yourself?, I explain how to realistically assess your business stage, as well as what questions to ask when interviewing marketers.

Once you’ve determined it’s time to go big with your marketing, use these simple guidelines to drastically improve your odds of getting the right strategy, team, and Game Plan.

Marketers: Get clear on what you can promise your clients and communicate that from day one.

What can people expect to gain from working with you? What are your other clients’ experiences and results? What will clients get no matter what? How will you keep them informed of progress? And, perhaps most importantly, What does the client need to do on their end to ensure a productive engagement?

Clients: Comparison-shop for marketing vendors.

Do not go with the first person you interview, especially if he or she is a friend-of-a-friend or family member. Just like any hire, taking the time to review several candidates will prevent losing time and money later.

Marketers: Give referrals when a project is not in your wheelhouse.

Here’s how we bring trust back to marketing, PR, and sales engagements: marketers, you must understand what you can do, and just as important: what you cannot do well. Have a handful of similar service providers that you can refer when a client is not a good match. This is particularly important in industries with very specific business models and cultural scenes, like visual art, film, fashion, tech, and wellness.

Clients: Ask for specific case studies, results, and timelines.

Who have they worked with, what was the result, and how long did it take? When things aren’t working, how does the firm handle it? What are the metrics for success? Get the facts, and take into account your gut feelings about whether you trust this professional to tell you the truth (not just tell you your product is brilliant) and get the job done.

Marketers: Explain how PR works, from the market conditions to the hustle.

The media world has changed dramatically in the past 5-10 years. The game is totally different. In my PR workshops, I explain exactly why this is, what the opportunities are, and how to be proactive and adaptive. Traditional PR alone just doesn’t cut it; a full marketing strategy is required. Additionally, clients often don’t understand the onslaught of emails that journalists get every day, that most outreach is ignored, that it takes time to build new relationships, and that even established relationships are subject to the news cycle. It’s your responsibility to manage expectations – but don’t let that be a cop-out. Your #1 responsibility is creative solutions.

Clients AND Marketers: When something isn’t working, communicate.

Communication is key, with a caveat: start from the understanding that we are all on the same team. Everyone wants extraordinary results. Maintaining a spirit of teamwork will move you forward, whereas being antagonistic will threaten the results you so dearly want.

The takeaway? Exactly what it is for everything I teach: there are no magic pills in business, however, there are best practices. Focus on starting with the right strategy that speaks to your target audience, finding a team that understands your brand and thinks creatively, investing in growth when it makes sense, and committing to bring your best hustle to the game every single day. It will be worth it — I guarantee it.

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