This may come as a surprise, but there are still communications folks out there that forget to work with their clients to make sure there are no surprises in the communications process. These same experts then act surprised when their strategic plan presentation is met with stony silence instead of cheers and celebration.
Like my clients, I hate surprises. (Even birthday parties.) That’s why I forewarn all my prospective clients that the Gracie Communications planning process is extremely time-consuming for them as well as for my communications team. In fact, I tell them we are part of their team and they are part of ours. They have valuable insight and knowledge, and by sharing it they not only keep research costs down, they develop a buy-in to the finished product that results in a working plan instead of a plan that collects dust on a shelf.
Communications pros may know marketing and PR, we may have a general understand of the clients’ industry, but we don’t know their businesses. We may understand how to reach their audiences but we don’t know how they really interact with these audiences currently. We can’t because we don’t live in the day-to-day of running their businesses (or non-profit or charity event, etc.).
We also don’t really know the dynamics that govern our clients. Do they answer to a board of directors? Investors? How do they want their staff involved? Any strategic plan stands a much better chance of getting implemented if the client is able to champion it to his or her internal audiences. To do that, the client has to be involved in the process and given the opportunity to ask questions – prior to the big reveal.
It can be time consuming to include clients in every step of the strategic plan, but isn’t it harder to present a plan cold and have it rejected? Here are seven different phases during the planning process when you can – and should – interact with your client, rather than present to them:
1. The beginning. Explain the planning process. Make sure they understand the timeline AND that it fits with their business calendar.
2. Discovery and research. Involve them. They may be able to connect you with sources you couldn’t reach otherwise.
3. Communications objectives. If your communication objectives aren’t in line with their business objectives, it is better to find out early in the process.
4. Creative brief and/or talking points. This is a guiding document for communications professionals that is often misunderstood by clients. Since it sets the key messages and tone for a marketing campaign and the related PR, make sure you review it.
5. Target audiences. Again, make sure your suggestions are in line with their needs.
6. Strategies and tactics. This one goes without saying, right?
7. Creative/implementation. Just like with #1, make sure the timeline and creative process leaves room for other business deadlines and needs.
Whenever possible, also try to meet with the client’s boss or board as well to introduce yourself and your goals so all the decision makers know what to expect and can put a face with the actions they will review later. Yes it is more work, but it’s not called account management for nothing.
Bottom Line: If you want clients to trust your recommendations, you must respect their input and guidance. If you don’t, the one who will be the most surprised by their reaction may be you.