When I worked at a public relations firm, my team would inevitably experience growing pains after taking on a new client. Over time, as we got to know the in-house team members, culture, mission, and goals, we slowly started to build trust from both sides.
However, during these initial trial and error periods, I often wanted the ability to read my clients’ minds. That way, we could speed up the get-to-know-you process and optimize satisfaction from the very beginning.
Years of experience have taught me that truly understanding the client’s point of view (and getting big wins!) helps paid consultants transition into go-to trusted advisors. If we could read our clients’ minds, we might find the following common wishes to keep in mind at the start of our next new client engagement.
1. Some topics are simply off-limits
Content development is an exciting, complicated process, especially when your agency is hired to come up with fresh ideas. Many consultants will intentionally make out-of-the-box content suggestions in order to cause a spike in engagement and traction. However, sometimes these ideas are met with a firm “no” from the client team.
Clients wish that instead of taking rejection personally, agency partners sought to understand why the idea wasn’t approved. Even if a topic trends for an extended period of time, sometimes it’s just not appropriate to comment on or include it in the client’s editorial calendar. The in-house brand representatives I’ve spoken to report that they don’t like being the bad guy when it comes to turning down the agency’s ideas. Despite the discomfort, they remain focused on their top priority: preserving brand integrity. After all, they have to make the right judgment calls to reach target audiences and please their C-Suite. For agencies, the key is to listen and understand where clients are coming from, especially before pushing back and encouraging them to take a calculated risk.
If you’re in doubt about whether or not a topic is appropriate for your client before pitching, the best practice is to stay in tune with the brand’s designated tone and persona. For example, if you’re representing a family-friendly restaurant chain, it doesn’t matter how much boozy brunches are “it” right now. If it doesn’t align with the company mission, it’s probably best to steer clear.
The moral of the story is: stay true to the brand whenever possible to maintain brand integrity and attract the right target customer. Even if something edgy, aggressive, or funny will probably make a big splash on social media, your client won’t be happy if the impact doesn’t help represent everything they stand for. Bounce right back from rejection, respect what your client doesn’t want discussed, and get more creative as you return to the drawing board for the next big idea.
2. Show only the metrics that drive your client’s business
Somewhere along the way, it became popular to produce monitoring and analytics reports showcasing vanity metrics such as likes and followers. Several years ago, I found several executives, usually those who took a more hands-off approach to social media, measured success in the continued growth of followers and likes.
I think they believed these numbers made a big impact in meetings, but the information didn’t actually mean much in the grand scheme of things. While these numbers may sound impressive, they fail to demonstrate the full impact of your marketing and communications strategy. They also don’t reveal opportunities to optimize your strategy and reach target audiences.
Luckily, the days of focusing on vanity metrics are almost over, especially as Instagram likes may soon be a thing of the past. Today’s savvy clients want meaningful insights about the data that actually impacts their bottom line. Pull important data from your social media tools to tell the entire story of how the brand is performing online, especially as it relates to the competition. Instead of followers, show data portraying engagement and customer satisfaction. Ditch likes, and show mentions, sentiment, reviews, testimonials, recommendations, and leadership references instead. In place of impressions, show sales conversions and pinpoint the content that is most frequently shared, especially when and where it’s shared.
Beyond just reporting the data, it’s essential to explain why tracking this information matters. Connect the dots to explain where and why sales conversions are happening on social, and how insights about customer behaviors inform future content, advertising, and engagement strategies.
3. Ask questions about your clients’ history
Too often, agency partners jump the gun by pitching exciting new ideas without taking the time to understand the strategies that have worked (or have not worked) in the past. While there’s something to be said for an agency bringing a new perspective to the table, no one knows the industry and subject matter better than the client.
Before putting your foot in the mouth by suggesting a tactic the client has already tried multiple times, conduct a discovery meeting. By asking in-depth questions to collect institutional knowledge about previous campaigns, the client will feel assured that you’re taking a holistic approach.
If the client is apprehensive about trying something new, but you don’t see any history to indicate a reason to avoid the strategy, clearly communicate your rationale. If the client still remains apprehensive, put a pin in the topic and continue the conversation at a later date. Certain factors may change over time that could impact their point of view, especially as your mutual trust and comfort grow. In the meantime, it’s probably best to not push and move on to the next big idea.
We’d love to hear about your own lessons learned from client experiences. Have something to share? Send us your best insights on Twitter.