The most important work relationship you can build is with your client.

Sarah Riley is a vice president at Method Communications.

PR people are in the business of establishing, nurturing and maintaining relationships –but no relationship is more important than those we have with our clients. The benefits of stellar client relationships are twofold: seamless communication makes for better outcomes, increased efficiency and honest conversations. Equally as important: it’s nice to enjoy the people that you work with every day, and feel that they’ve placed their trust in you. 

Our industry brings high highs, like celebratory cheers after a great piece of coverage hits, and low lows, like commiserating when an exclusive falls through. Both are bettered by a solid foundation between agency and client.

Here’s how to get there. 



Establish genuine connections 

Establishing trust with a new client is table stakes, but developing a working relationship that feels natural, positive, and good is something else. It’s not just small talk during the first five minutes of a call. It’s sending chocolates when they get promoted, commiserating about a delayed product launch and finding ways to trauma bond through an all-day and all-consuming crisis. 

When you’re lucky, it’s also laughing over two, maybe three, glasses of wine after it’s all over. The aim here is to instill confidence that you’re united by the same goal: helping them and their company be successful. 

Learn what a client wants, what a client needs

Another surefire way to establish a good working relationship? Make your clients’ life easier. Our goal should be to give them something (research, monthly priorities, messaging – anything!) that they can use, not something they need to do something else with to be able to use. Think about something as mundane as a recommendation you give in response to an inbound request from a reporter. You could say “This publication is legitimate, it’s worth doing in our book,” or you could include the UVM, the last time your client connected with that publication, a flag about a coverage area they’ve been dipping into lately, and a drafted note they can pass along to execs that outlines the ROI for the opportunity. 

Ask yourself: How can I make their day, week and life easier? How can I make them look good to their boss? How can I encourage them towards making something bigger and better than they imagined? Call it concierge service, white-glove service… just look for ways to surprise and delight. 

Discover how to fail together, then grow from it

When I’m training interns new to PR, I tell them to always expect the unexpected. We’ve all learned over time that despite our strongest efforts and best-laid plans, disappointments are inevitable. We’ve been the bearer of bad news, but we don’t need to hide our disappointment with smoke and mirrors. We can tell our clients that we’re as upset as they are that we didn’t land inclusion in an article we worked really hard to get featured in. That we know their hard work feels fruitless, and that we can do what’s possible to create another opportunity – even if we can’t always guarantee it.

A true partner shares in joint failures as much as successes, and how we respond to those failures is equally important as how much effort we put into avoiding them. When you’ve established a solid relationship with clients, this won’t come across as excuses or lip service because it will be genuine. 

By doing all of these well, you’ll not only be a good agency partner, but an asset to your clients as individuals for life. The world of PR and marketing is increasingly small and constantly moving. A client today could be a colleague tomorrow, or even an advocate for you and your agency when they move to a new company that would be amazing to work with. You never know where people are going to end up, so nurturing every relationship you can is in everyone’s best interest. 

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