Work it, DO it!

I come from a unique working background, going from in-house to PR agencies and then moving back to in-house. Working through the levels from ground up, gives me a really good perspective of how Communications as a role can evolve, how the agency and in-house roles work and more importantly, how to work them.

One of the things that resonated with me all these years is perception management. Sounds fancy? Not really. It is what it sounds like. Perception management is a practical tool that, if you grasp its fundamental concept, you ultimately accomplish so much more.  

Here are some real-life examples of how perception management works and coming from the client-side, what we think. Our agency in London gives my boss (vacationing in The Netherlands) a panicked call when they discovered that the demo kit that they passed to a leading technology journalist didn’t have a SIM card. Worse, they never checked to see that the card was there.  Are you sure you’ve managed consumer tech accounts before? Why they never thought to call me, the non-vacationer, is beyond my understanding.  My first instinct is to pick up the phone to give them a really good reason to worry.  What happened to thinking the problem through? Or presenting the client with a solution if you are stuck? Sure, you handle nasty journalists all the time. What happened to handling it for the client? Did you expect me or my boss to fly to London? Instead, you panic and freak out. Shame on you. Dear agency consultants, if your first instinct is to call the client the moment a problem crops up without presenting them with viable solutions, you should reassess your day job. 

The second story comes from an agency that I’ve personally worked with and in. They were working on an event and they were expected to deliver on RSVPs as well as documents. While the agency was a little slow on the uptake, they made things work. What they did differently was they didn’t talk up their project. They focused on what could be delivered and worked steadily towards their goals, despite pressure from me.  I don’t know about you but I prefer working with agencies who know what they are doing and do not over-promise and under-deliver. Agency work is about delivering and reassuring. You know the media, you know the landscape and your job is to manage your client’s expectations. 

Finally, my ultimate pet peeve is agencies that talk up their experience without being able to deliver. Sure, you have the fancy clients and the huge accounts or you could be a super niche agency. But if you don’t share the RSVP list unless I ask for it? Or if you have no idea what a briefing document is or complain when I ask for a post-mortem report? You should be fired. I hired you to do the job. If I have to do your work, I might as well do it all on my own. Perception management as you can is, is a foreign concept here.  And who does a project without showcasing results? The irony? The project spawned a HUGE amount of coverage and a lot of positive follow-ups.

So what do I want or rather clients want in working with an agency? It’s quite simple, really:

  • Show us you know your stuff with concrete results. Case studies, real-experiences in account management and problem-solving count.
  • Assure us that you are doing your job by being responsive. Give us daily/weekly updates/calls. Ask us to help, tell us what you need to get your job done
  • If a problem happens, don’t freak out. BREATHE. Take a step back and think of a solution, work it through and then update us. Demonstrating solid problem-solving skills under pressure is a huge plus.
  • Ask if you don’t know anything. Do not limit yourself at initial meetings.
  • Show us you know your media landscape. If we challenge you, respond and demonstrate that you KNOW your media and how they work. Educate us.
  • Be enthusiastic. This last point makes or breaks an account. It makes your client feel good that you are keen to work on their project. Even if you have no idea what the hell a satellite is or if the bloody things can work underground, show interest, ask intelligent questions and we will respect you and your interest in us. 

Don’t just ‘handle’ your clients. Manage them and they will respect you. It’s about creating value for you and your business.  And really, if all else fails, don’t simply panic. Breathe and work it out. 


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Ever prodded a sleeping dragon, only to have it whip up and bite you in the ass? Well, neither have I. But I advocate that you should try everything...once ;P


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