The panel discussion, moderated by Imogen and Annabel at Q&R, had both agency and client perspectives. I was joined by our host, James Bethell owner of Westbourne Communications, to give the agency view, with seasoned communications stalwart (formerly of Weber Shandwick), Nicole Clarke from Orange Group representing clients.
As I’ve already mentioned, all agencies strive to take pride in the quality of service they deliver to their clients. It is the mantra of any aspiring business to do the best possible job they can and build a reputation in the market that will propel them forwards. Approximately 40% of all our new business leads come through referrals – either clients recommending us to other companies, or former clients moving roles and choosing to work with us again. The more niche the area of technology specialism, the more valuable these referrals become to us. I estimate that approximately 70% of our telecoms leads come through referrals, for example.
While achieving client satisfaction is critical to a growing a successful business, the best client relationships, for any PR agency, must be built on respect. The client must work hard to establish a clear brief, have appropriate expectations in line with the budget allocated and work hard internally to achieve the relevant buy-in and sponsorship from the leadership team. The agency must show patience and understanding of internal politics and pressures and find ways to innovate and succeed despite them.
My point about client expectations in line with budget is crucial. The PR industry is full of ‘people pleasers.’ It is in our DNA – it is certainly in mine. Most agencies believe that a culture of going ‘above and beyond’ for clients should be the norm. While I applaud the sentiment, I would also urge caution. In my experience, this kind of philosophy, if not managed carefully, can end in horrendous client over-servicing, the destruction of harmonious agency culture and the creation of a sweatshop mentality. Perhaps most significantly of all, it erodes client respect in the agency.
It is possible to achieve a balance. The client can enjoy consistently fantastic results through an agency’s hard work and determination. The agency can build and trade off a reputation for best-practice while also earning a profit.
This kind of relationship can only be achieved through mutual respect.