Warming new clients to the idea of touting your relationship

Receiving permission from new clients to announce account wins to the media can be tricky for agencies. But by being straightforward, firms can convince clients of the benefits.

Receiving permission from new clients to announce account wins to the media can be tricky for agencies. But by being straightforward, firms can convince clients of the benefits.

Announcing new business is a basic way to market a PR firm, and it sounds like a simple task. Get client. Inform client of intent. Send out release.

But time and again, even the most experienced of agencies seem to have trouble doing this in a smooth and orderly fashion. Releases go out without approval; account teams forget to even clear it with their clients; journalists call, only to be told the agency can't discuss the work - all issues causing problems both with reporters and with that new client. But agency leaders across the country say there are a few simple steps that can eliminate such problems, even if they don't always agree exactly what those rules are.

First, says San Diego-based Allison & Partners GM Mark Corbae, attend to the obvious.

"Clearly, before you even move forward with any type of publicity or promotion of your new clients, you need to get their approval up-front."

Asking new clients if you can tell the world you've landed their account can be a touchy matter, though, because it starts off a relationship on a self-promoting note. Experts say that handling the issue takes a bit of finesse. Most agree the key is positioning it as a win-win situation.

"We generally explain that this is a chance to get positive publicity for both our company and theirs," says George McCabe, PR director of Las Vegas-based Brown & Partners.

Mark Hopkinson of Florida-based NewsMark Public Relations adds, "While it might be self-serving to a certain extent, a new client announcement can be usefully presented as a positioning piece or the opening salvo on the work that is to follow. We've never been retained by a client who did not see the inherent value of this."

Corbae also recommends looking at the issue from the client's perspective and realizing that "some companies may have issues or regulations with regards to having their name publicized," so firms must have "some sensitivity" when approaching the subject.

Lenora Kaplan, PR director for Las Vegas-based Schadler Kramer Group PR, adds to this by pointing out that, for smaller clients, this could be their first agency relationship, and they might not have a clear idea of what you are asking. "You think that they know what you're talking about," she warns, "but maybe they are not quite sure. Always be up-front and honest."

She suggests being willing to show them other sample releases, along with a media list of where it will be sent, to give them a better idea of what to expect.

Other agency heads say that getting approval is as much a matter of timing as positioning. Many suggest it's best to raise the issue at the time of the contract signing, when everyone is usually in a positive frame of mind. Some agencies even write it into their agreements.

"We have in our contract our desire to be able to talk about our partnerships, and that's covered when we sign," says Jennifer Baldridge, director of business development for Kansas City, MO-based Sturges Word.

"You must wait until the contract is signed until you do that," says Kaplan.

Others, however, feel the contract signing is too soon into the relationship.

Whenever you decide to ask, there is general agreement that the next step is crafting a release and giving it to the client for approval. The release should, at minimum, cover the scope of the work, the type of relationship, and who the contacts are at both the agency and the client. It's important to remember that reporters will want to speak to the client, so their understanding of the types of questions that will be asked and their willingness to be interviewed are crucial.

"Typically, reporters want to know how did you get it, was there a pitch, and who was part of the pitch," says Baldridge.

Once the client signs off, it's ready to go to the media. But Corbae warns to think one last time before sending it and to do an internal check to make sure this is the best move for the agency.

"An impressive client list can go a ways to create positive exposure for your company," he says, but "ultimately, more critical than a laundry list of clients is what those clients are saying about you and exactly how you service their accounts."

Announcing new business wins

  • Get client permission to publicize the win

  • Make sure the client is willing to be interviewed

  • Think carefully about how and when it's best to approach the topic

  • Don't push it - some clients might not want to announce

  • Make sure the client approves the release

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