The Most Important Lesson You Probably Never Learned in Communications School

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No doubt many of you learned the essential aspects of PR as a student in communications school. But let’s face it. You could have purchased PR textbooks and learned some of the same fundamentals, less the tuition costs.

At communications school, you were probably instructed how to craft a program, the importance of strategies, tactics and objectives. Also, what your professors said was the correct method of pitching a story, (which I’ve always disagreed with and written about based on my earlier career as a reporter and editor).

There is, however, one facet of PR that is vital to your career that you probably never learned in class: What many PR people fail to recognize is that doing good work, while important, often is not the reason why a client stays with you. The most important reason for a successful client relationship is making the client look good. While the below advice is aimed primarily at PR pros working with clients, brand communicators can use many of the tips, too.

Here are several ways to make the client look good:

Make the client feel important for the program’s success: This can be done by always incorporating some of their suggestions when drafting a program. Doing so doesn’t mean you have to act on them.

Never go over the client’s head: If you achieve a major hit, immediately inform your client so he or she can notify company higher-ups before they learn about it from reading the morning media reports.

Make yourself available to the client, even after working hours and during vacation by providing emergency contact information. Provide the client with your out-of-the office email address, your mobile and home phone number.

Always say nice things about your client contact when presenting to the client’s higher-ups (even if you don’t mean them).

When socializing, always remember a client is a business acquaintance, not a personal friend. No matter how close a relationship you have with a client it’s a working relationship only; act accordingly.

In my initial job at a New York City daily, my editor said the first thing I must do each day is scrutinize all the stories in other papers to see if there is an article we can expand upon or a story that we missed. I followed that rule when I jumped to PR, as New York dailies failed, and used it to good advantage. Doing so provides a constant flow of ideas that can be tailored to accounts.

But there was a more important reason: By reading the papers early in the morning, I saw stories about the various brands we represented, competitors to the brands we were working for, as well as other stories that might influence the business of companies we were representing. I immediately called and emailed details to the company contacts I was working with. I follow that practice to this day.

Doing so provides executives with an opportunity to share the information with higher-ups and makes them look good. It also means getting to the office earlier than needed. But it did and continues to pay big dividends.

My advice to young PR practitioners is to craft the best programs and achieve the best results possible. That’s what clients expect and should get. But all that can be for naught if you do not master the most important aspect of PR that probably was not taught in communications school. Make the client look good.

Formerly SVP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, Arthur Solomon is a consultant, a frequent contributor to PR and sports business publications and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at: arthursolomon4pr@juno.com