It's better to be respected than liked

Too many PR consultants make the huge strategic mistake of trying to be liked by clients rather than being respected.

Richard Houghton: associate partner at Agency People
Richard Houghton: associate partner at Agency People

One of my least favourite phrases in the consultancy world is: "The client’s happy." Invariably this is the answer I get when I ask consultants how a campaign is going.

Why does it annoy me so much? I didn’t ask about the emotional wellbeing of the client contact but whether the campaign was progressing as planned. This response is an indication of one of the underlying agency issues that gets in the way of profit growth  – many account handlers want to be liked first and respected second.

It’s not just me who thinks this. There is a disconnect between what consultants and clients see as the most important factors in a good working relationship. Just 15 per cent of respondents to December’s PRCA/YouGov 2014 In-House Benchmarking Survey rated personal chemistry highly. This compares with 48 per cent of those that participated in the PRCA’s 2014 Consultancy Benchmarking Survey who rated personal chemistry as the highest factor for successful working relationships.

This is music to my ears. I’ve always felt that I would rather be respected by a client for my professional advice and delivery, than liked for being good company and having the latest restaurant booking.

The implications of this desire to be liked can be serious for a creative firm.

Part of the challenge is the sort of personalities that are attracted to consultancy life. My experience is that the sector is dominated by people who rely on their abilities of persuasion to get them to the end goal. This would be described by Thomas International’s work behaviour model as high I (influence) and high D (drive). This is fine when pitching and persuading clients of the validity of your strategy but not so helpful when you are managing the nitty gritty of a campaign, negotiating budgets or trying to reduce the amount of time that you give away free. Why? Because high I and high D consultants fear not being liked or being unpopular more than anything else.

Combined with personality type is the lack of ability to demonstrate value (not evaluation again, I hear you cry). But it makes sense that consultants with a desire to be liked are going to feel a bit more confident in having that difficult conversation if they have clear and demonstrable results as a basis for the conversation.

So the practical outtake from this argument is to step back for a moment to consider the personality types that make up your account team. Do you have the right balance of high I and Ds, along with high C (compliance) and S (steadiness)? You need a combination of behaviour types to deliver modern data-driven campaigns, with robust evaluation. Also take a look at your senior management team. It you have too many high Is and Ds you may not be covering all the growth drivers you need.

Of course ideally we should be respected and liked, but if there is only one choice available I’ll take respected every time.

Richard Houghton is an associate partner at Agency People


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