Building Relationships with Clients – a PRBI Podcast Episode (Part II)

First comes love, then comes… a contract? Check out Tyler’s insights on cultivating great relationships with your public relations clients. You can check out part one here.


Joyce– So, how do you start off the relationship? You know, the courtship is over, marriage, the papers are signed, you’re ready to start working together. So, what are some of the best practices you have found for really starting a relationship off on the right foot?

Tyler– I think, you know, it even starts before the papers are signed quite frankly. You know, what we found is it’s very important to really understand the exact goals and objectives and define them with the client even while you’re in that courtship phase to make sure that you’re aligned and that everybody has realistic expectations about what can be produced from a PR standpoint. You know, I think it’s really important to have those metrics in place and be able to know what we are evaluating against and over what period of time. So, outlining that process so that way they really understand, you know, here is what the agency can do, here is what we expect from you, getting aligned and all on the same page and then working towards a shared vision. And then having that plan in place is really important to be working cohesively as a team and I think that’s really one of the most important ways that you can have a successful relationship start out.

Joyce– Do you have a process in place for bringing the client and the agency together to develop that plan and to set those goals?

Tyler– We do. So, in an ideal scenario, we really would like to have a planning phase that’s at the beginning of the engagement where we sit down with them. We’ll have anywhere from 30 to 60 days where we really take a deep dive into their business and do our due diligence and ensure that we’re immersing ourselves in their business so that we can come to the table with solutions, again, that maybe they haven’t thought about before. So, we really lay out concrete timelines and objectives and go through that primary and secondary research phase to really get a sense of what the problems and challenges are and what we can do to help them come up with solutions to hopefully produce those business results they’re looking for.

Joyce– In the course of the agency-client relationships, what are some ways in which the relationship might kind of go off the rails? And then, the second part of that question, too, is how do you avoid it?

Tyler– Well, I think you know, to answer your second question, to avoid it, I think communication is key. I think that’s the biggest thing. I think a lot of the time, I mean, it’s human nature, but if you’re having challenges or struggles, somebody will internalize it and not really tell you, “I’m displeased”, or, “I don’t like what’s going on.” So, being able to extract that information from the client and being able to have them tell you, “I’m not happy with what’s happening” or, “I’m  experiencing this challenge” because you can’t expect the agency to necessarily be able to adapt if they don’t know that there’s something going on, so I think that that’s huge, just being able to make sure that you’re just communicating and as early as possible, too. If you let the problem fester, obviously that’s going to lead down a path that both parties aren’t going to be happy with the end result, but I think that, you know, in order to make sure that things stay on course one of the big challenges that we face is making sure that it really goes back to communication, so with deadlines and priorities and understanding that to be successful there needs to be a lot of having interaction and engagement with the client-side as well. And that goes back to helping them understand the process at the beginning when we’re talking about deadlines and those sorts of things; we need to have access to those key individuals and have their participation and if we don’t have the full buy-in from their internal team then that’s going to be really challenging to produce results. If they’re not giving us access to them or the information that we need or arming us with the tools internally that they have to be successful from a PR standpoint.

Joyce– And also one of the things that when we’re talking about communication is having those regular meetings where you can talk about process as well as talk about projects and say how are things going. Clients always love to be asked that question because often it’s just assumed things are going fine and maybe they are, but it also gives everybody the opportunity to talk about our own process and how we might improve it.

Tyler– Absolutely, and we try to sit down with our clients at least on a quarterly basis where it’s more high-level and strategic and, you know, it’s usually over lunch or something where we’re checking in with them to make sure that they’re not only happy with the results but with the client service and, you know, everything that goes with working with an agency because at the end of the day perception is everything. Even if the agency feels that they’re producing results but the client isn’t feeling that then clearly there’s a disconnect between those conversations and working through it is really important and that’s what leads to those long-term relationships.

Joyce– If you were to give one piece of advice to an agency, we’ll start with agencies first, on how to ensure that these relationships are mutually productive and satisfying, what would it be?

Tyler– I think a couple things. To start, know when you need to have PR support when you come too late to the table. If you’re coming to hire a PR agency three to six months after you first thought about hiring them, it’s already too late, so if you’re expecting fast results it’s not the agency’s fault that you’ve put them behind the eight ball. You need to have realistic expectations and kind of know what the process is, and that’s on the agency to explain what those timelines are. For instance, if your dream is to get on the cover of a national lifestyle magazine, if they pitch, and by some chance they get engagement from the reporter right away, it’s going to be six or eight months before that ever comes to fruition so sometimes clients don’t really understand what that process looks like. It’s important how we go through that timeline so that way they’re realistic in terms of how quickly we can impact their business over time. I think that it’s also important that the client continues to ask themselves really why does their story matter. Because, of course, everybody feels like they’re personally invested and that it should be newsworthy, but if you really kind of remove yourself from that and take an outside view at the end of the day, continually ask yourself is the story that we’re asking your agency to tell really newsworthy, is it really going to get people engaged on social, or is it something that people care about because at the end of the day and agency can only do so much if there isn’t that compelling piece of information to really drive that story home. And as I mentioned before, I think being as responsive as you can and being engaged you can’t expect to hire an agency and then just have them be this independent vacuum that operates in a silo. Even if you don’t have a huge marketing team internally, there needs to be that executive-level buy-in where they are feeling like they’re engaged with the agency and they’re working towards a shared goal, and there is that relationship that’s being built with a lot of collaboration involved.

Joyce– And that’s very important to understand about public relations is it is not one of those functions that can be siloed. It is the agency-client relationship that really helps to keep the message consistent and compelling throughout the whole organization and therefore, you know, senior-level executive buy-in and participation is really critical.

Tyler– Yeah, and one of the things, too, that we really stress is value. That’s another important point from the client perspective is that, you know, a lot of agencies are structured as retainer or hourly or a project, but think about what is the value that you’re getting for that investment if you get a placement in the outlet you’ve always been dreaming of then what is that worth to you, versus just how it equates to the time that went into it. That’s important to understand as well is a lot of PR is relationship-building, so how do you communicate that value and understand that is one of the challenges that agencies encounter, but also I think from the client perspective is putting that in focus in terms of what they are ultimately generating. It’s not about the result in terms of media placement or social engagement, but how does it ultimately impact my business and seeing the value that PR can bring to the table.

Joyce– We just completed an international survey about public relations with thirty-two companies worldwide and that was one of the things we found, the value that public relations holds for reaching the company’s corporate goals. So, I think tying it back to that overarching goal is the right way to wrap up our discussion today. Tyler, I want to thank you very, very much for being here today and talking about this crucial subject of matchmaking and maintaining long-term relationships, long-term productive relationships between agencies and clients.

Tyler– Thank you so much for having me. It’s been great.

Joyce– And you can find out more information about Public Relations Boutiques International at and find out more about the members, the services, and great educational information on communications. Thanks, everybody.

Tyler Rathjen

Tyler Rathjen is a partner in Decibel Blue, where he leads some of its highest-profile lifestyle clients. Whether developing strategic marketing plans, establishing creative programs, or managing digital, advertising, social media, influencer and branding projects, Tyler has a wealth of communications expertise. Tyler began his career with Decibel Blue in 2006 and has since overseen the launch of more than 120 franchises across the nation, including 80 Dunkin’ Donuts stores.

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