The noun, ex•pec•ta•tion [ek-spek-tey-shuhn], has a number of meanings -- but I'm most partial to the following, especially when used in reference to the start of a new agency/client relationship:
Being responsible for new business retention, I can spend several months courting and cajoling a prospective client. During that time, I'll have to prove to the CEO and CMO that my agency is capable of representing Brand X, that we truly get their message and value proposition, and can launch impactful PR campaigns that produce great outcomes -- not just "outputs" -- on ever-shrinking budgets. We'll have to jump through countless hoops and hold conference calls until the contract is signed, and then we're expected to be off and pitching posthaste!
Except there's one important thing missing from the above. An outline of expectations. Not from the client, but from us.
I've actually given it a name: "Statement of Expectations." It sounds rather arrogant at first, but it's become absolutely necessary when taking on new clients in our age of "great expectations."
Why? Because clients expect a great many things from our agencies -- PR, ad, creative, we're all in the same boat -- but in many cases they can't or don't communicate precisely what their expectations and needs are. And left to chance, in an economic climate that's so highly strung, the smallest mistake or misunderstanding can become the impetus for losing a client.
So rather than taking that chance, why not spell it out for our clients beforehand? If we did that more often, perhaps we'd have more fulfilling agency/client relationships -- more clients for longer, as well as staff who felt more respected and appreciated, and overall, a stronger agency brand.
Sounds pretty good to me.
So next time you're about to jump into bed with a new client, ask yourself if you're ready to wake up next to them every day. On second thought, don't. But you should be asking some things like this:
1. How quickly do you expect to appear in The New York Times or BusinessWeek? (Hint: this is a great indicator of realistic expectations. If the answer is 1 week, good luck!)
2. What are the five most important elements in your engaging our PR firm?
3. Do you see our relationship as a strict client/vendor transaction, or do you see this as a partnership?
4. How many PR firms have you worked with before? Average length of engagement. (Hint: if the answer is five in two years, I'd politely decline.)
5. What are your benchmarks and milestones for effective PR?
6. How much time are you (marketing team, certain staff etc.) willing to spend in being actively involved in our PR initiatives. (Hint: less than 1 hour a week and you're screwed.)
7. Press releases or meaningful coverage: Which is more important?
8. How comfortable are you talking with the press? Do you feel that "no comment" is an appropriate response? (Hint: part one should be Yes; part two should be No. If not, oh oh)
9. Do you have a basic concept of "PR 101" and "Media 101"?
10. How important is PR to your company's operations? Rate from 1 to 10, 10 being most important.
Of course, these are just a few examples. Our actual statement reads quite a bit longer. Our ability to deliver a great PR product lies in our understanding of what our clients' needs and expectations are, which in turn comes from their ability to communicate these accordingly. Simply going through the motions and assuming isn't enough.
Left unchecked, great expectations can lead to great disappointment. But it doesn't need to be that way if you're upfront and clear about the way your agency operates and what you expect from your clients.
In fact, your clients must just love you a lot more for it.