The foundation of a successful agency or business is to have satisfied clients. This also means the agency needs to be satisfied with their clients, what they do, how they operate and what their mission is. Agencies and clients need to have shared values and agree on marketing and public relations goals in order to create a great working relationship. It’s imperative the client and agency are on the same page with regards to campaign goals, product positioning and definition of what will connote success.
As CEO of one of the top PR and marketing agencies in Beverly Hills, I’m extremely picky about which clients my agency will represent. I believe an agency should be so immersed in its clients’ businesses that the clients feel like the agency works in-house. In order to be that high touch and hands-on, agencies need to ensure both sides of the relationship like each other and work well together so that vision of immersion can be in place.
The way I see it, creating the right agency/client partnership is like dating: There must be chemistry and a rapport between the parties in order to establish a successful arrangement. You must believe in the product or service offered by the prospective client and want to work with the executives. You don’t need to be best friends, though you should think about whether you’d want to hang out with the key executives with whom you would be working. You do need to respect one another’s expertise and approach to business and the market.
Perfect example: I had a potential client who had a Bluetooth device for pets, which sounded like a fit since I love dogs. When I asked the prospect about how they tested the product and if they could verify through science that it was safe for the animals, they said they had not done any animal testing, so they did not know how animals would react or if there would be any side effects of low-level radiation. I was concerned that without the testing, the client would be vulnerable to potential lawsuits and would not have data to prove the device was not harmful. Not to mention the fact that I thought they had no concern for the animals to ensure proper testing was done for their safety ahead of time. Needless to say, I had no problem turning the company away.
Another time, a potential client had a beauty product with about 30 different foreign chemicals as ingredients. I only use natural products on my skin and hold the belief that the Earth can heal. If I won’t use a product myself, I cannot in good conscience market it to others. I wished the prospect all the best and sent them on their way, and I have no regrets about doing so.
It’s always best to be honest with clients as to why you do not want to work with them. However, if you want to steer clear of that, for special circumstances, you can say, “We are not accepting new clients at this time,” and suggest another agency. The drawback of this approach is that the prospect could return to seek an engagement with you in the future.
So, how does one select the right clients as partners for whom you will be able to garner coverage, increase sales and meet overall goals? I always ask myself these questions:
• Would I use this product or service myself?
• If it’s a B2B product or service, do I believe that what they’re doing is for the greater good?
• Is this client in the agency’s wheelhouse? If not, would it be worth it to enter this market?
• Does the client operate ethically and honestly, and do they align with my agency and personal values?
• Would I be proud to say that my agency works with this client?
• Do I trust that the client will act properly toward employees, customers and my agency?
• Would the agency have access to the CEO of the company?
• Is the CEO ego-driven or committed to doing great PR for bottom-line growth?
I’d also recommend asking the client these questions, among others:
• What does your company do?
• How do you differentiate your company and products?
• Why do you want to work with our agency?
• What do you see as the value in doing PR for your company?
• How will PR align with the rest of your business and business goals?
• Are you willing and do you have the time to make yourself accessible to the agency for media ops?
• What drives you to succeed?
• What are your goals for this engagement?
If an executive cannot provide succinct answers to these questions, they may not be ready to work with an agency. These questions about the value of public relations are important to determine what the CEO feels the role of PR is. A great PR firm wants to work with the company to define its message and increase positive visibility for the client, not to step in only in times of crisis to correct a company’s image.
There are other issues involved in selecting and retaining clients, such as their ability to pay. You can watch for some initial danger signs, such as reluctance to agree on a budget, the desire to set conditions on payment (i.e., “We will pay when you deliver a certain number of media interviews”) or if the client keeps expanding the scope of the project without mentioning — or ignoring your comments on — increasing the budget to meet the scope.
It’s important to spot the red flags before signing with a client in order to set yourself on the right foot for a successful relationship, and these tips can help you to do that.