As much as PR relies on smarts and effort, client relationships are a key component of finding and keeping work for doing PR in an agency setting. The basic building block for these relationships is good rapport. While rapport won’t necessarily make or break a relationship, a good rapport can make PR work not only easier but also more enjoyable.
How to Develop Rapport
The #1 ingredient is, and always will be, good account work. Without that, no amount of rapport is going to save an account. Beyond that, I always go back to something I learned freshman year of college in psychology class: proximity breeds attraction. While at the time I interpreted that to mean I should sit near to my crush at the dining hall as much as possible, the lesson there applies just as aptly to interacting with clients. We believe in constant, proactive communication through weekly standing calls, Skype conversations, instant availability on Google Chat, and, of course, readily responding to emails. The more you communicate, the more you get to understand their business, their specific role and needs at their company, and their personalities.
But for all of our electronic availability and telecommunication, meeting with our clients in person is still the best way to develop that stronger relationship. It’s always a challenge since many of our clients are outside the Bay Area. Still, making the proactive effort to see them face-to-face, either when they visit our area or when we go to them, is well worth the time. I try to see our clients in person whenever possible, whether that’s by attending a trade show or flying to see them in their headquarters domestic and abroad. Relationships are based in human interaction, and that means spending time with other people.
With PR and marketing, your client is entrusting their brand to you. It’s a big responsibility, and one that we never lose sight of. Having a good rapport with a client gives us additional confidence in that trust and really allows us to be more creative in our campaigns. Also, the more you like someone as a person, the more often you’ll want to interact with them – and work for them. It’s great for motivation and productivity, which feeds back into creating solid rapport. Good work can help good rapport which leads to better work which strengthens rapport.
What about those times when rapport just isn’t developing. It’s rare, but it does happen. Sometimes personalities just clash. The lesson for both agency and client is to not force a working relationship if it isn’t a good fit. If both parties are unhappy and dreading a weekly PR call, it’s better to acknowledge that and move on. Continuing down that path will stifle the success of the engagement.
The Limits of Rapport
You shouldn’t expect good interpersonal relationships with clients to give you a pass to let up on the quality/quantity of work or to take advantage of that bond. Remember, too, that your rapport is built on your work. Clients might very well become friends, but it’s important to remember that you’re still providing a paid service – and that needs to be respected above all. It can be a big challenge not to lose sight of that, but essential to adhere to.