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Understanding the client – a simple skill, but vital

06Aug Posted by Ben Rothschild

Sermelo recently celebrated its 10th year anniversary (congratulations Jonathan!) and we’ve been thinking about our client relationships over the years, and the different elements that can make these relationships successful. While there are many different factors which can make an agency-client relationship successful - the people, the brief, the wider situation, etc. – in our opinion one of the most important is whether or not the communications consultancy understands the client.

It might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how often it becomes clear that an agency doesn’t really understand what their client does, or at the very least that some on the team aren’t sure. Not only does it mean that the agency probably won’t be able to service the customer property, but it’s also a bit embarrassing! There’s nothing worse than seeing a client’s face when the agency they trust with their brand with gives away that they don’t understand what the client does or how they operate. So, how can agencies ensure that they understand the client, and place themselves in the best possible position to create a successful relationship?

The quickest and best way to understand what a client does is frankly an easy one, get stuck in! Reviewing the client’s website, becoming familiar with their materials and how they speak about themselves, as well as speaking to them are all key. The first time an agency is working with a client should also be seen as an opportunity to discuss frankly what’s required and what the expectations are from both sides. It’s in everyone’s interest to get things right, so these initial conversations can be critical. Once an agency begins to understand how a client speaks and thinks, it’s much easier to replicate that in any media relations or communications activities.

Another really useful action that agencies can take when working with a new client is to read previous features in the media. Although these features might need to be taken with a pinch of salt (after all, there must be a reason why the opportunity to work with a new client has come up!) it’s another really good method of building understanding. Analysing what has worked well in the past, as well as what hasn’t, provides useful insight to the strengths and weaknesses of a client’s business and communications strategies.

In any agency, the team that services a client will often be a mix of senior and more junior staff. Although the senior team may have a greater understanding of the more top-line, strategic side of the business, it’s still really important that the junior members of the team have this clear understanding as well. As any account activities are a team effort, it’s really easy for an agency to come unstuck if that understanding isn’t there, particularly when speaking to client employees who don’t work in communications, and who might not be familiar with how agencies tend to operate. At Sermelo we’re very conscious of the need to have consistency of understanding across all our team, which is why we begin to involve all team members in strategy discussions from day one. Again, getting stuck-in is the best way to learn and build knowledge!

Finally, another vital skill for any communications consultancy is the ability to read between the lines. Although it’s always important to listen what a client is saying, it’s equally important to understand what they’re not saying. Every company will have its politics, it is an unavoidable fact of working life, and sometimes a client might be trying to say something without explicitly stating it. This ability for a consultancy may to interpret these things that can’t be said out loud and respond appropriately is a really important  skill to develop, and can be sometimes be the difference between an account running smoothly and one that runs into problems down the line.

No matter the situation, no client goes into an agreement with a communications consultancy wanting it to fail. However, that doesn’t mean that success is a given, and agencies all need do their part. By working together as a team to become deeply familiar with a client’s business, all parties can take a big step towards creating a sustainable relationship and delivering measurable results that contribute to a common goal.

Ben Rothschild
Ben Rothschild

Ben is a project lead on some of Sermelo’s large international clients. Since joining Sermelo in 2016, he has supported clients to help them achieve their communications objectives with a particular focus on copywriting, media relations, internal communications, social media support and account management. He has worked across a broad range of both business and consumer facing sectors including insurance, aerospace, mining, automotive, property, electrical goods and travel.
[br]A key component of Ben’s role is developing and implementing multi-channel media engagement campaigns for clients, including FM Global, Andermatt Swiss Alps, De Beers, Norsk Hydro and Oerlikon. These campaigns have resulted in significant international, UK national and trade media coverage.[br][br]Ben has a degree in History and Ancient History from the University of Exeter. Outside of work, he is interested in football, cricket, tennis, and is also a keen reader.

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