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Hunger game: in PR, your service appetite dictates length of client 'honeymoon'

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In the public relations field, a honeymoon period comes with each and every client engagement.

There’s the initial connection, followed by a period of courtship where the independent PR professional or the PR agency and the prospective client get a feel for each other. Then, if both parties agree that there is a fit, the agreement is reached and work begins in earnest.

It’s always great to get off to a strong start. You issue a news release, conduct vigorous outreach with the media, secure some placements in the press and other strategic communication channels.

That’s the easy part, really. What are you going to do with the rest of your business-to-business life together? How you answer that question will go a long way toward determining the length of that life.

In some instances, PR pros may find it is much tougher to maintain that same level of enthusiasm a few months, let alone a few years, down the road with the same client.

Why is that?

The most typical reasons mirror the reasons why some marriages run into trouble:

1. You stop doing what you did to ‘win’ your partner

There’s the human tendency to be passionate about the chase, but ho-hum about those who have been “caught.” You no longer have to “prove” yourself, so you slip into passivity and wait for the client to initiate activity. You might communicate, in so many words, “Just let me know what I can do for you” and then sit by the phone waiting for it to ring.

Of course, that’s not exactly what you do, but that’s the spirit that comes across over time if you stop returning calls so quickly and start to scale back the ambition level of public relations campaigns.

Rare is the individual who has the discipline to continue treating smaller clients with as much enthusiasm as the big fish. There is reward, though, in being part of this rarefied group. It grows your reputation, because, at minimum, those "small guys" have big spheres of influence. By remaining diligent, you can pave the way for bigger opportunities.

In building a global organization of Amway Independent Business Owners, Ron Puryear, founder of World Wide Group (WWDB) traces some of his biggest successes to people who were retail customers, or connected with him through retail customers. The key, Puryear has said many times at WWDB Family Reunions and other conferences, was that he treated retail clients as holding great value. As time has demonstrated, he was absolutely right.

2. You get distracted by other fish in the ocean

If you are doing a credible job of helping clients, word is going to get around. Others will be attracted to you, and you will be attracted to them, too—particularly if you fall in the “thrill of the chase” category.

Some of these prospects will have retained your services, further tempting you to dilute your service to your previously established client.

When it comes to that original client—you know, the one that you had before these other ones were a blip on your radar screen—what do you do to keep the honeymoon going indefinitely?

One of two scenarios plays out at this point.

With one path, you stray from the fundamentals that got the relationship going in the first place—and, sooner or later, your client becomes an ex-client.

The other path is characterized by your sticking with those fundamentals. Trust and mutual respect, and a consistent history of success, enable the relationship to blossom even more over time. You remember why you were entrusted to provide service in the first place. You prod, explore, dream up crazy ideas—some of which may actually be brilliant—and otherwise guide your client.

In the process, you get better at identifying the most compelling stories that will help promote their efforts and build their presence in the marketplace.

In short, you become indispensable and immunize your business rivals’ attempts to woo your client. The key to these sustained relationships, and honeymoon periods with no expiration date, is to stay hungry.

Todd Berger, President and CEO of Chicago-based Transportation Solutions Enterprises, said it so eloquently in this "Coffee Break" feature in the June 23, 2014 edition of the Daily Herald’s Business Ledger:

“We lease our customers, we don’t own them,” he told Kim Mikus. “…It means we must work hard and offer value every day in order to keep them happy and retained. Complacency kills, and we want to make sure that we never take what we have earned for granted.”

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