One of my all-time favorite movies is “Jerry Maguire,” the 1996 film starring Tom Cruise in the title role as a complex sports agent who goes through a crucible of sorts, losing his job and every single client except for a single football athlete (the very charismatic Rod Tidwell, played by Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr.)
There are several reasons why the movie and Jerry Maguire’s character appeal to me. First off, he’s a sports agent and I am absolutely obsessed with the sports world. Secondly, as an agent, client service and results are paramount to his success. That equation is very much akin to life as a public relations professional.
However, above and beyond those examples, there is one line in particular from the movie that resonates with me like no other. It’s Jerry’s now infamous refrain, “help me, help you,” which he uses while imploring Rod to give him something more to work with in order to land the big contract.
I’m pretty sure there isn’t a single PR professional in the world who hasn’t had the very same experience with a client. When was the last time you shared your frustrations privately among colleagues or in almost the same fashion as Jerry and Rod with that one client you love but who just doesn’t quite get it?
And, trust me: if you’re in PR, you’re in the client service business as much as you’re in the results business. They walk hand-in-hand, and, therein lies the rub — the Yin and Yang of PR, so to speak.
We need clients and clients need PR. We walk hand-in-hand, too. But, as is often the case, some clients have their own assumptions about how PR works (i.e. in a vacuum; magically, calling in favors, etc.) and therefore don’t give you what you genuinely need to succeed on their behalf.
Yes, the onus is on us as PR professionals to educate/strategize with clients and to alleviate the burden on their end if they’re strapped for resources. However, despite many of our best efforts, we have all experienced a client (clients?) who just doesn’t make it easy on us to shape what they want the market to know into stories journalists want to use. That’s when we all cry out in private or out loud: “help me, help you… Help ME, help YOU!!”
In an effort to alleviate this all-too-common stalemate, I would like to present some solutions that we as an industry can and should implement to empower more and more client partners to give us the tools we need to succeed. Sure, what I’m proposing may already be well-known within our industry, but perhaps it’s designed more so to reaffirm what most of us already know, as well as to impart some new wisdom to those who are breaking into the field or — better yet — to existing and potential clients.
- Here are the keys to the kingdom. At the beginning of any relationship there is always the intro meeting in which the client contact will give a rundown on the main players to approach for different news topics, Google Analytics data, or making sure that that scheduled meetings are processed. By granting us access to different stakeholders at the client’s company, they give us the runway we need to do our jobs efficiently.
- That’s entertainment. Question: how many of you make a point of taking clients out for coffee, dinner, and/or drinks? We’re all busy and I get that, but entertaining clients is part of the job. As anyone can attest, taking clients out (whether in a group or one-on-one setting) has two benefits: it builds on a potentially good working relationship in a very informal manner and gives us an opportunity to procure some new thought leadership or personal interests material to leverage in future media pitches.
- Penny for your thoughts. One of the golden rules of relationships applies in this case: the need for open dialogue between the client’s stakeholders and the agency, especially around breaking industry news. The more we can obtain insights, commentary and high-level thinking from the client, the more familiar we get with the client’s business/industry on a wide array of subjects…which can then become a new blog post, foundation for a byline or story pitch, etc.
The key for all these suggestions is that we as PR practitioners need to take a step back, look at the big picture, understand the many facets of the client’s business — people, culture, product, industry, competitors — and do what we can to make the client trust us, respect us, and firmly position us as a trusted partner rather than simply an outside vendor or service provider.
Only then can we break out that classic line: help me help you.
John McCartney currently serves as the Managing Director, West Coast at WISE Public Relations, a boutique tech PR agency with offices in New York and San Francisco.
In 2013, he was named to Business Insider’s Top 50 PR people in the Tech industry. John also currently sits on the sfBIG Board of Governors, and is a member of the Public Relations Society of America San Francisco chapter. On Twitter, John is @johnny_mac. To learn more about John, visit about.me/johnmccartney.