Mind the gap - how to gain the trust of senior clients as a young PR consultant

PRWeek's 2013 PR Census showed that 46 per cent of all PR agency employees were aged between 25 and 34. So how can today's generation of great young PR people be confident in the boardroom?

Tell it how it is, don't be a puppet and 'fess up when you get it wrong, writes Nicky Imrie
Tell it how it is, don't be a puppet and 'fess up when you get it wrong, writes Nicky Imrie
Here are my top tips (and a few war stories): 

1) Listen and then tell how it is 

Never tell clients what they want to hear, unless it’s true. If a client is unlikely to get into the FT, (politely) tell them so. But tell them how you CAN help them get to the people they need to communicate with – channels and media. But don’t do all the talking. Clients need to be heard. 

2) Don’t be a puppet 

I once pitched to a major kitchen brand where a friend was heading up PR. Her honest feedback was that I’d gone corporate and "lost" my personality and sense of humour. Ouch. Never feel you can’t show your true self. This advice hurt but has helped me win a few pitches since. 

3) 'Fess up 

Mistakes happen, such as pitching up at a presentation having left my laptop on the train or sending an FT journalist biography (ahem)… to the journalist. Always be honest and professional with the client or your manager about what has happened, any probable consequences, and how you plan to put it right. 

4) Defer to the experts  

There will be (many) times when you feel out of your depth and this is normal. Whether it’s a crisis (once a big tech firm I was working with laid off nine per cent of its workforce without warning), or a client asking about the process for undertaking an IPO, don’t blag it. Explain that you’ll work with colleagues to present them with the right approach. 

5) Believe in yourself 
Your employers would not be putting you in front of senior clients if they didn’t know you could acquit yourself well in a range of situations. Conversely, don’t be afraid to ask for help in the form of a mentor – ideally from outside your organisation. An experienced person to discuss situations without fear of judgement or comeback can be incredibly useful. I have been very lucky to have several senior people who have helped me throughout my career – and I now count them all as personal friends. 

Lastly, remember that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. No client is impossible to deal with, and I’ve learned much from mine over 20 years.

Bosses however… that’s for another piece…

Nicky Imrie is co-founder of The PR Network 

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