Every work environment has its own culture, and that difference is probably never more prominent than between agency and client-side work. Sure, the way in which we do PR is pretty much the same wherever you practice – strategy, writing, relationship development, branding, message training, media outreach, etc. But, agencies generally move at lightning speed on many projects simultaneously and have an opportunity to let creativity push boundaries. On the other hand, corporate companies are inclined to move at a slower pace and their schedules are usually more predictable. Projects tend to be the same year-over-year and they are at a great advantage of getting to know one client well from the inside.
So, when a client of PadillaCRT requested onsite assistance for an extended period of time, I took advantage of an opportunity to support a client and find out if the grass was greener. I’ve been on the agency side ever since I entered the workforce and, after this experience, I’ve realized that you really don’t know what you don’t know. After walking in the corporate client’s shoes and attempting to glide between the two worlds, I learned a thing or two about account management and client relationships.
Beyond day-to-day PR
I didn’t realize that the client has full exposure to all the facets of the business that drive success – sales, marketing, operations, distribution, and in-house creative – not just PR or marketing. They see first-hand the impact the agency work has on the business much more clearly than the agency, which is more removed from day-to-day operations of the business. In addition to blocking and tackling, the client also needs to be more focused on developing strategies and working with internal stakeholders and business partners to strengthen the company’s business objectives. Many times, the agency is relied on to provide deliverables that meet the client’s corporate communication goals. Bottom-line: Our clients are busier than we think!
Smaller in numbers
I didn’t know that a corporate PR department is likely smaller than the agency team. Sometimes there is only one or two people handling all PR or marketing on the client side and one person is also managing the relationship with the agency. Whereas an agency account team might have assistants, account executives, senior account executives, account supervisors, VPs, SVPs, and EVPs, working on developing and executing strategy for only a few projects within the corporate PR or marketing department. Clients are usually looking for agency support to alleviate some of the work needing attention that they can’t always provide when day-to-day items take more time than planned.
All that red-tape
I didn’t realize that the client has internal clients and project workflows are much longer. There are more people, opinions and approvals involved. Since everyone on the team has a specific role that’s well defined, they don’t usually have to worry about becoming a “jack of all trades.” On the corporate side, the client probably has several “bosses” and the chain of command is more refined. So, follow the client’s instructions – they were given for a well-thought-out reason and went through an approval process before being communicated to you.
I never grasped just how focused on one company, one message and one group of employees our clients are. They devote more time and energy to a particular purpose than an agency executive ever will, because they’re responsible for juggling several different clients, with different priorities, schedules, strategies, etc. – all at the same time. No one knows your corporate client better than your client – that is why they are responsible for signing off on the brand, strategy and communications – so listen well to their direction.
After reflecting on my client side experience, I’ve become more aware that a certain degree of empathy is required to have a supportive and understanding relationship with the client. Sure, sometimes you might feel that you’re caught between the client and your creative/account team. But, on the client side, they too are waging their own conversations between management and the marketing department. Keep high expectations of yourself and your client, but remember that your relationship and projects that you have with them are just one piece of their day-to-day work – you are only one person that they are collaborating with and managing. They have their own internal clients, processes and projects to work through in addition to the executions that the agency is working on. Always strive to be an extension of the internal marketing team and a strategic partner. And, most of all, have a little empathy.