Starting a relationship with a new client, or launching a new project for an old, repeat customer, is a lot like dating. At first, groping in the dark may yield some quick, mutually satisfactory results. But eventually roles and expectations must be expressed if the relationship is to be sustained and a success.
Try this check-off list as work begins for a new client:
1. What does the client really want?
The client may say it wants lots of positive stories in the media. Determine why. Selling product may be one simple reason. Or there may be deeper, more complicated, unspoken reasons to consider – legal, mergers, employment issues, for instance? The answer may change your recommended strategies.
2. How is success defined?
The client may have a clear, achievable goal in mind, or be unable to articulate a desired outcome. Work with the client from the start to quantify a measureable outcome. The definition could be as simple as getting 10 major stories placed in key publications. Or success may be more challenging, such as achieving a 10 percent increase in customer approval ratings.
3. Is there a culture for success?
Responding quickly to a crisis or issues-management situation is vitally important for maintaining a good reputation. Determine what the client’s corporate culture is on how it responds. Is there a clunky process requiring layers of approval – the enemy of quickness? Are local managers trusted to make timely statements? How can the process be streamlined to shorten response time?
The same assessment should be made about project approvals and reviewing news releases, web content and other materials.
4. Does the client understand media expectations?
As professionals we understand the media has clear expectations of what it needs if your client or project is to get a reporter’s attention. Determine how aware the client is about media needs, as well as Do’s and Don’ts when working with reporters. A simple media-training session with the client may be a wise investment.
5. How hard is the client willing to work?
This may be the most important question on the list. Determine how much time the client is willing to invest to create an environment of success. To manage a communications process, you may recommend a communications team meeting every two weeks, or every week at first. Is the client willing to commit the resources and focus on follow-up tasks between meetings?
Determining the answers to these questions will help you understand how best to work with a new client and keep it around as a satisfied customer.