Managing Client Expectations In PR

Now more than ever, it’s critical that your clients understand what PR is and isn’t. Many of the negative perceptions surrounding PR can be traced back to a lack of understanding of what PR is and isn’t. Helping clients understand the PR process and what they can expect for realistic results can dramatically improve their satisfaction with your services.

Here are some tips that have helped me set client expectations accordingly in the past:

  • What outlets are important to them? – it’s important that you understand your client’s expectations before you start working with them. Do they expect to be featured in BusinessWeek or invited to be a guest on Oprah? Do they have a story that is strong enough for either of those outlets? If not, tell them upfront. Help them understand what makes a good story for these outlets.
  • The Best Outlets for Your Goals – develop a PR strategy for your client that clearly outlines the best outlets to reach their target audiences to generate the best results for the campaign. Help them understand the reasoning behind the outlets you’ve selected, and why it doesn’t make sense to pursue opportunities in outlets that will have no interest in covering them. A product review in a vertical trade can often deliver more sales than a brief mention in a business magazine – clients may not understand this as you do, so you have to educate them.
  • There is Only So Much Real Estate to Work With – while online opportunities increase the number of options for placing stories, there is still incredible competition in all areas to be featured in a story. At a typical trade publication, only three out of 15 or more interview sources may make it into the final article. Regardless of how effective you are at lining up interviews for your client, there is a small chance that the information you provide will be relevant or useful for the story the journalist is working on. Clients need to understand that it’s a long-term process of building relationships with the media, one that will eventually pay off if you stick with it and prove yourself as an expert source.
  • Timing is Tricky – your client may need to secure publicity opportunities in the next 60 days. Your chances of securing coverage may be best in 120 days, around a major conference or special issue. Helping clients understand timing issues is important for setting expectations. You need to constantly be working to develop relationships with media, so you’ll be able to capitalize on opportunities when the timing is right. Just like all clients are not in the market to buy your product or service at one time, so too are the media not always working on stories that are the best fit for your clients. Your PR efforts need to be ongoing and not a one-time campaign.
  • Defining Return on PR Investment – how you define PR return on investment (PRROI), and how your client defines successful outcomes, may be very different. It’s essential that you collaborate with your clients to both define what success looks like, and to gauge how realistic the outcome will be. Clients often expect to generate much more coverage than is realistic for their investment. If clients understand the average coverage generated per pitch or campaign, looking at your historical performance with other similar clients, they will be much more receptive to receiving invoices for the work you are doing. And your client satisfaction will be higher. Don’t wait until the end of the month, when the client is arguing about an invoice, to educate them on how the PR process works.
  • PR is More Than Publicity – clients often hire a PR agency to generate press clips for them. This is the wrong approach for clients, and the wrong scenario to begin working with a client. Publicity is only one area where PR delivers value, and probably one of the least valuable areas based on my experience. It’s up to you to educate and prove your value in other areas to clients. How does your agency help clients adapt to new media, such as social media? How do you help clients deliver consistent and compelling messaging across a diverse set of target audiences? How does your PR strategy integrate with and boost the value of other marketing programs? The more you can make your client an expert on the potential of PR, the more they will view you as a strategic counselor, and not just the people that get them press.

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