So you’ve been promoted to a level where you will have your first substantive client contact. Congratulations. This is the opportunity that you’ve been seeking. You now have a chance to show your stuff. But good work is not enough. Good client relations are just as important as good results (often more so) in your quest to climb the agency ladder. Conversely, good results will not necessarily advance your career if you can’t hit it off with clients. Just as in your personal life, relationships are important in the business world. Never forget that. I say this from experience.
During my 30 years in public relations, before, during and after my nearly 25 years at Burson-Marsteller (where I played key roles and managed national and international sports and non-sports accounts and traveled as a media advisor with high-ranking foreign government officials), I have seen account people whose work I thought was below par advance on accounts because, as a client told me about one person, “If I told him to jump out of a 35th-floor window for me he would.”
Below are some lessons about client relations that in all probability were not covered in communications schools but that might help you survive the client-agency dance.
> Don’t assume that the gorgeous young woman who accompanies your client is his daughter.
> Don’t assume that your client isn’t miffed when you always win at tennis or golf. (Lose occasionally.)
> Don’t assume that if you ask if your work is satisfactory, you’ll get a positive answer.
> Don’t assume that if you go drinking with a client, it’s okay to say, “You look terrible” when you meet the next morning.
> Don’t assume that, just because you have a good social relationship with your client, it will assure you of a good year-end account team review.
> Don’t assume that when a client complains about being passed over for promotions that you can vent about your situation.
> Don’t assume that what a client tells you about your work is necessarily what will be told to your superiors.
> Don’t assume that when a client says, “As long as I run this account, you’ll be on my team” that it is written in stone.
> Don’t assume that when you’re about to leave on vacation and a client says, “It’s really not necessary to tell me how to contact you if an emergency occurs," it means you don’t have to leave contact information.
> Don’t assume that when a client says “no rush” regarding a request, that there isn’t a “rush.”
> Don’t assume that when a client, (or your agency superior), says, “I’m going up the corporate ladder and I’m taking you with me,” that they mean it.
> And finally, don’t assume that all the praise the client showers on you will change what your agency superiors think of you.
Do your best to stay on the good side of a client by doing high-quality work that will make your client contact look good to his or her manager, but always remember your fate is in the hands of your agency supervisors. They sign your paycheck.
Arthur Solomon was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org