Over the course of my 20-plus years in public relations, I’ve been fortunate to work with some really great clients. At my first agency job, I was the day-to-day PR contact for the Connecticut Lottery. I had an office at the agency – and one at the Lottery, where I worked on-site three days a week. In some ways, I was on my own over there and there was a lot of learning on the fly. Gratefully, I had an incredible client who guided me, supported me and ultimately taught me to trust my instincts. This was the first most valuable lesson I learned from a client.
What follows are seven others I’ve learned from my clients over the years.
1. You can never be too organized.I’ve always been responsible and good with direction, but I have a terrible memory so I take copious notes and make a lot of lists. I learned – thanks to a few difficult clients early on – that keeping notes in an organized fashion really helps. It gives you something to refer to and has saved my skin on more than one occasion.
2. There is no such thing as being over-prepared.Whether it’s anticipating what questions a client may be asked in an interview or mentally playing out the “worst-case scenario” at an event, I always maintain the Boy Scouts motto – “Be Prepared.” Not only will your clients thank you for it, but your nerves will be grateful as well.
3. Winning IS everything. There’s really nothing like the feeling of a win. Whether it’s securing an interview for a client with a major media outlet, seeing your event on the front page of the paper, having an awesome turnout at a press conference (and having everything go smoothly) or hearing the words, “You’re hired!”, winning is invigorating. It reminds me why I do what I do – and all that there is to love about it.
4. You can increase your credibility just by being responsive. We all want to be heard. And being responsive to a client or a reporter is an important way you show that you’re organized and on top of things. It shows respect and understanding of the other person’s needs, and is essential to good communication. After all, isn’t that what our business is all about?
5. Even the toughest personalities can be won over.Like I mentioned before, I’ve had my share of challenging clients, so I know how frustrating it can be when you feel you’re doing everything you can, but nothing seems to be good enough. Some people are just impossible to please. Others give poor direction. Bottom line – you can’t let a tough personality or difficult situation define you. Figure out how you can learn from it. Chances are, if you keep listening and doing your best work, at some point you’ll win them over.
6. It pays to be persistent. In this business, I’ve seen that being politely persistent can pay off. No, I don’t mean making 10 calls to a reporter to follow-up on an email you sent – that’s annoying. To me, persistence is more about follow-through. You say you’re going to have a draft by Friday, and you do. You say you’ll call in two weeks, and you do. In fact, Catalyst once landed a new business account because of my “persistence,” and I have to say, that made my boss pretty darn proud.
7. Never let them see you sweat. This might sound very cliché, but in my opinion it is an essential lesson for all marketing and public relations account people to learn. It’s up to us to talk our bosses off the edge when a client is freaking out; to assure our clients that we can get something done even with a tight deadline; or to let a reporter down gently when you can’t deliver that all-important interview. That’s not to say we don’t get all keyed-up ourselves, but it helps to step back and take a deep breath (or two) before you confront the issue head-on. Someone needs to keep calm in the face of it all and it might as well be you.
So, there you have it – some of the top lessons learned from over two decades of experience with all sorts of clients, with a special nod to my very first, who taught me more than she will ever know.