Client relations: Mind your professional bedside manner

By Ed James | Posted: June 21, 2013
As public relations professionals, how often do you find yourself in a situation with a client where even though you feel you’re expressing yourself with complete clarity, you can sense they just don’t get what you’re saying or where you’re coming from?You are trying to explain the diagnosis and prognosis for their publicity campaign, yet you can see their eyes cloud over. As they ask you the same questions for the second and third time, you know that what’s happening is a serious lapse in communication. Like an illness, if it remains untreated it will just get worse.

This literal misunderstanding can go on to create a wide chasm between agency and client, which can ultimately lead to dismissal or the need for you to resign the account.

Once things head off in this wayward direction, course correction becomes incredibly difficult and you may end up with almost a “sleeping with the enemy” type of animosity. Often when this arises, the immediate tendency is to blame the client for their lack of comprehension—but aren’t we supposed to be the great communicators?

Ultimately, it is up to us as PR professionals to walk the client through the process—adopting an almost beside manner—so there is no miscommunication.

Too often there’s the feeling, “It’s so easy to understand, so why doesn’t the client just get it?”

Put simply—it’s not always that easy.

The client wants results, and if you’re not conveying the process—walking them through the steps—you’ll always be left with the “yeah, but where’s my feature in The New York Times?” style questions. They are not PR pros, and they hired you to do a job, so they expect—and deserve—to understand the reasons they are paying you.

[RELATED: Hear how top companies adapted to the digital PR industry changes at this August event.]

So, as you begin, sit with your client, figuratively hold their hand, map out the ups and downs—the potential pains and rewards—and provide a realistic forecast with a reasonable expectation for successful results. Only with this fully transparent approach can a true partnership can be forged.

Ed James is president/co-founder of Cornerstone PR. You can follow him on Twitter @edwjames

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