“My father used to say this is the greatest job in the world except for one thing: the clients.” – Roger Sterling, Mad Men
A good working relationship can make or break any project, big or small. I have been very lucky over the course of my career to have had a roster of excellent clients for long periods of time. I have also had the character building experience of working with people who made me crazy (and various other emotions).
Working with an agency, contractor or consultant is in itself an important relationship. We need to be able to trust and respect each other. It can’t be a one sided relationship with the the client barking “Jump!” and the agency instantly replying “How high?”
For me, if the client is easy to work with and we enjoy working together, that is the most important thing. When people ask me if I have a specialty when it comes to the kind of companies I work with, I always reply: Interesting and nice people doing interesting and cool things.
What this means is that I have done PR for everything from electric guitars to pinball machines, as well as for mobile technology giants and some amazing start ups. I have had the experience to work alongside some of the smartest, most creative, most driven people I have ever met. The kind of people I like working all hours for and feel pushed to produce the best, most creative work possible.
Fairly recently I had an account from hell. I think this account is a perfect example of how the client themselves prohibited me and my team from doing good work. The company was actually pretty cool and right in my sweet spot of startup and entertainment tech. I have a ton of experience in this space including a former client that is now contracted by Samsung. The contact at what we will call Company X (this is the account from hell) was notoriously difficult to work with. In the course of my working relationship with them, I experienced:
- Micromanagement – understanding of course that is just some people’s management style. I was patient and tried to give the client the benefit of the doubt – We are all here to do great work.
- They never took my advice on strategy or campaigns.
- They put out too many press releases about nothing at all times of the day and all days of the week – This was completely baffling to me and they were paying out the ass in Business Wire fees. Not to mention they expected to get coverage on every release.
- They could not decipher whether they were a B2B or B2C company. Their strategy was all over the map and not focused and when I brought this up I was told that I did not understand the company or space (keep in mind this was the third or fourth company I have worked with in this exact space).
- The contact was mean which as a result made my team hate her. I understand that in the world of business we are here to make money, and that PR is seen as a service industry. But, we are also in a working relationship together, so grace and common civility go a long way. So does healthy working boundaries. I took more calls from this client at 9:00 and 10:00 PM then I can count on both hands.
It’s one thing if you are nice and there is a lot of hard work. I will always be happy to take your call on a weekend or 6AM on a Wednesday. But laying into me and my team over ever single thing, questioning our recommendations, and essentially requiring more resources then you are paying for, just to turn around and tell me you are not getting the PR traction you want is bad clienting.
I completely understand that you can’t be Mary Sunshine 24/7 to get what you need to done, but there is something to be said about mutual respect and common decency. Being civil to your co workers, contractors and those you do business with is part of your reputation as a professional and it influences your reputation as a company. Now that I am a one woman PR show, I won’t work with jerks. The money just isn’t worth my time. My talents and expertise are super valuable and I want to do good work that I am excited about.
I told this person right before the contract was terminated that I thought they were mismanaging me and my team and I had the analytics to back me up. I was dreading this conversation due to their Attila the Hun style of managing, but knew it needed to happen. The relationship was toxic and the work we were producing was toxic PR waste. I don’t believe in going through the motions with account work. Our work sucked and it was a direct result of of this contact micro managing us and not taking our recommendations and ideas. I came armed to the meeting with a new proposal, strategy and campaign examples we could move on. We were fired the next week. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. If I had a confetti cannon I would have let it off.
This client had essentially done everything wrong. They basically made it impossible for me to do my job and really work my magic. Whenever I am working with a client having a healthy partnership is so key. Collaboration is where it is at. I like to see myself as an extension of your team. Are you excited about the work you are doing?! Then I am too! Let’s work together to make something special and impactful. If the relationship is good, then the work will be fun. And I use the term “fun” in the PR masochistic sense of the word.
I believe that we all have a choice in how we put ourselves out in the world (that’s a little of my West Coast sensibilities shining through). There will always be times of chaos when you loose your shit – it happens to all of us – but think about the day to day management of your relationships.
Some traits to consider:
- Are you a micromanager? Chances are if you are the marketing or PR point for a company you have too much on your plate to be spending your time micro managing the PR team. Trust in your team and try and give concise directions with details, deadline or vision and let them do their thing. People like structure but most of the time hate being micromanaged.
- Are you not open to outside ideas? Why even work with an agency or contractor if you are not going to be open to outside input? The whole point is to bring in outside energy and resources. Use them!
- No boundaries? Calling, emailing and demanding time and attention outside the realm of pre discussed working hours is super annoying and not respecting your contractor’s time.
- Unorganized? Are you scatterbrained and often miss meetings and loose emails? You need to be accountable to your team. They are only as good and organized as you are.
Full disclosure: I grew into what I would now call my Honey Mentality (as in you get more bees with honey). As a young manager I definitely put my staff through the ringer by being moody and overly dominaring. People hated me, and I hated that. Once I started being nice, offering guidance and support as well as coming to the table organized and prepared to lead, they followed.
The value of a good relationship is priceless and in marketing and PR relationships are everything.