PR pros who have managed to maintain long-lasting relationships with clients look at those relationships as accomplishments and great sources of pride. But each of them will tell you that a great deal of work goes into building those associations.
Hill & Knowlton has been Mazda's AOR for 30 years. Bonnie Goodman, EVP and GM at H&K LA has worked on the Mazda account at various levels for the past 18 years, most substantially in the last 10. Goodman says that while the relationship has evolved, she believes there's one constant thread that has made it successful.
"Mazda has always seen us as its partner," she says. "The relationship has changed, in part because different people have been on the business over the years. But if nothing else, it has expanded and gone from a PR agency with media relations being the centerpiece of what we do, to more of a marketing communications client-agency relationship."
Jay Amestoy, VP of public and government affairs at Mazda North America, says the relationship has lasted both because each side continues to challenge each other and because of the quality of H&K's senior management.
"It's really about the people, and we have had good senior counsel," he says. "By that, I mean the people who are responsible for making sure the account team is the best it could be. I'm not suggesting there haven't been bumps along the road, but they've performed extremely well overall."
GolinHarris has been McDonald's AOR for 49 of the Golden Arches' 51 years, and Al Golin, firm chairman, has been involved in the relationship from the start. He says the trick is approaching each interaction like a first date, so to speak.
"The key is treating them like you just got them [as a client]," Golin says. "It's very easy to be complacent after 49 years with any relationship, whether it's family or business. And be thoroughly honest. You can't be a 'yes' person, always telling them what they want to hear. They're paying for advice, so give it to them straight, or you will never maintain a relationship with any client."
For a relationship to thrive, it's imperative that agencies "consistently deliver more than is expected and be one step ahead in terms of what's coming down the pike: issues, competitive opportunities, launches, [and] measurement," says Glenn Behar, a partner at Porter Novelli. The firm has worked with Gillette since 1988, and Behar says that by adhering to those practices, PN has been able to make suggestions and take chances with campaigns that Gillette might not otherwise agree to, as it did five years ago with the Venus brand women's razor.
"We wanted to take it in a different direction," Behar says. "We wanted to reach out on a grassroots level with some kind of mobile marketing element based around a 'Legs of a Goddess' search combined with a celebrity spokeswoman. For Gillette, this was something very different, but they greeted it positively based on the relationship and the results we had achieved previously. And the good news is, we just finished our fourth year [of the campaign]."
Treat each interaction with your client as if it's the first
Be honest with your clients. Don't just tell them what they want to hear
Continually challenge clients to take chances and look at new approaches