Latest industry views and advice

July 2

Sometimes the hardest thing about clients relationships, whether in marketing or in PR, is managing those relationships so your campaign activities deliver the best results possible.

The challenge isn’t only in client-agency scenarios, but also in-house where the marketing and PR teams are providing their services and support to the core business. Whether internal or external, success is based on good ideas, excellent delivery and – above all – good working relationships.

There are times when a client wants something that either can’t be done due to resources (time or budget) or needs to be done in a different way in order to get the desired traction. This conversation can be strained if not managed well which of course can lead to cracks in your relationship and, in agency land, the loss of the client, or on-going friction for in-house marketers and PR people.

So what can be done to help manage client expectations in a diplomatic way and in the spirit of commercial co-operation that builds on the strength of the relationship? I recently attended a Public Relations Consultants Association webinar on client reputation which elaborated on the topic:

Building on the relationship

First, you need to build a solid relationship and become a trusted advisor. If the client (or your business units in-house) sees you as someone they trust, they are more inclined to listen to your viewpoints. In order to become that trusted advisor you need to consider what it is that makes us trust others and then ensure you demonstrate those qualities with your client. For example, someone you trust will probably need some or all of the following:

  • Be reliable
  • Be a good listener
  • Offer help in considering options but recognise theirs isn’t the final decision
  • They don’t force things on you
  • They challenge your assumptions
  • They’ve given you advice that worked previously
  • You can rely on them to be truthful


Displaying such attributes will automatically build on the relationship you have with a client and also place you in a position of trust which is invaluable as a service provider. A good way to look at it is to treat the relationship as a deliverable alongside other deliverables; take time when communicating with your client as it’s easy to come across as blunt and to the point – small talk can help in moderation (and depending on your clients’ or colleagues’ personalities; they might want you to be simply business-like and get to the point!).

A useful technique is to take the time to discuss with each client how they want the relationship to work and how you want it to work. Establish an appropriate method whereby you can both bring up issues in an agreed manner and create a written process that summarises the conversation for everyone to follow.

Often you might feel the need to provide an immediate response to a client over the phone but a more effective approach is to listen and summarise; repeat back to them what they have said to you and allow yourself time to gather your thoughts while really grasping their objectives.

Becoming a trusted advisor takes time so begin immediately with both existing and new clients as they come on board. Every client is different and a “one size fits all” approach won’t work.

Managing expectations

A significant part of building that level of trust is devising a suitable plan to manage client expectations. The PRCA webinar described a step-by-step plan by which to do this:

Establish what the client wants – find out how the brief sits with the business plan which will allow you to look beyond the brief to achieve and exceed the expectations.

Agree the expectations with the client – this is where you can have a conversation that decides what is achievable and realistic in the given timeframe and with the agreed budget – this is the minimum requirement to achieve the objectives.

Manage and exceed the expectations – meet the minimum requirements that you agreed to achieve the overall objectives and then go above and beyond that – little golden nuggets that showcase the value you bring to the client.

Monitor communication – this is about watching how you interact with the client, keeping them involved and aware of what you are doing. This reassures them that you are doing what was agreed and builds the trust that you can do what you’ve promised.

Re-establish what the client wants – go back to the client and discuss the objectives again; things change in businesses all the time so it’s important to continuously review what the client is looking to achieve from the marketing or PR services.

Building the trust level and managing expectations will only serve to create strong and healthy relationships and at times where you may need to challenge the client in terms of realistically achievable outcomes, all the effort you’ve put in previously will go a long way to retaining the relationship. It’s about the client seeing you as an extension of their business, that they can’t live without rather than an external (or internal) resource that can be removed if necessary.

Click here for more reading on making client-agency relationships work

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