By Sandi Goldfarb
At the conclusion of a very productive kick-off meeting with our new client, Crossroads for Kids, the organization’s president, Deb Samuels asked, “What can I do to be a good client?” During my more than 25 years in the communications industry, no client has ever asked that question. For nonprofits, and frankly for any business embarking on a relationship with a PR firm, this is a conversation worth having.
At the time, I offered a few suggestions. But since that initial meeting I have expanded the list to include 10 guidelines.
1. Share detailed information in a timely manner. Follow up questions are inevitable. But the more background you provide on a person, program or product, the more successfully we can tell your story.
2. If more than one person must approve a document, coordinate the review with each participant working from the same draft. This will help avoid confusion, ensure accuracy and streamline the process.
3. Whenever possible, limit the number of colleagues who must sign off on projects and materials to those directly responsible for the organization’s communications and those who are experts on specific content. I’m all for buy-in, but needing approval from a large group can cause long delays and result in conflicts.
4. When it comes to press inquiries and opportunities, be as accessible as possible. The ability to respond quickly and thoughtfully can make the difference between being featured or excluded.
5. Have more than one spokesperson prepped and at your disposal. Busy schedules don’t always permit the president, board chair or executive director of an organization to participate in interviews. Having a deep “bench,” folks ready and able to respond to media inquiries is essential to making your organization part of the conversation.
6. Take advantage of training services your agency offers. Except for Kim Kardashian, most people don’t like seeing themselves on camera. But media and presentation training, which should include videotaped practice sessions, provides the tools needed to help frame a conversation, effectively communicate key points and position your organization in the most positive light.
7. Understand the difference between marketing and media relations. While we may love your new tag line, advertising lingo should not be incorporated into press materials.
8. If something happens— positive or negative— tell us immediately. We can’t offer advice or support if we don’t know that you’ve received an award, are announcing or eliminating an initiative or are dealing with employee malfeasance. Our relationships with reporters and editors can help set the tone for an interview and garner, or in some cases, deflect attention.
9. Understand what makes a story newsworthy. Is it a trend? A national model? Very few announcements are important enough for a press release let alone a press conference.
10. Social media is a communications tool. And so are bylined commentaries, letters to the editor, speeches and media advisories. Each plays a specific role in a strategic media relations campaign. Your PR consultant can identify which are the most appropriate for your story.
In the same way that a good PR practitioner must understand the work styles of reporters and editors, their priorities and interests, it’s important to educate clients so they can recognize the elements of a good story, respect deadlines, know when they will serve as the “star” or supporting player, AKA expert resource, in an article or segment and understand the basic tools at our disposal.
Addressing the “what makes a good client” question at the outset of an engagement can lead to greater efficiency, more effective communications and the creation of a client/agency partnership that is real, productive and long-lasting.