How To Manage PR Client Expectations and Set Yourself Up For Success

May 16, 2022

Starting the discovery call process for a new client is really exciting! There’s so much potential for your partnership, and you’re probably laser-focused on understanding their needs and showing them why you’re the perfect person for the job. But in order to be successful and make your clients (and yourself!) happy, you need to establish clear client expectations right off the bat. 

What Leads to Unrealistic Client Expectations? 

Clients will often come into the discovery call with unrealistic expectations, so it’s up to you to redefine their idea of success at the start of the process. 

You never want your clients to misunderstand the goals of PR, the deliverables, or what’s expected and realistic in terms of results. Read on for the scoop on how unrealistic client expectations take root. 

Clients Often Don’t Understand What PR Is

Go into the discovery call thinking that your prospective client knows absolutely nothing about PR – because sometimes, that’s actually the case! Many clients don’t really understand what PR is and how powerful it can be, or even confuse PR with advertising, marketing, SEO, or social media marketing. 

Everyone’s background is different…and that’s okay!

Some clients have never worked with a PR agency before and think they know what it is based on what they see on TV. Other clients have only worked with shady PR agencies that use pay-to-play opportunities instead of true earned media. 

And then, of course, you have the clients who have worked with genuine agencies, but had such unrealistic expectations that they ended the partnership thinking that the agency was the problem for not delivering the results they wanted. 

Wherever your prospective client lands, be ready to hit the reset button on their PR education and show them what PR truly is. 

Misaligned Client Expectations Go Unchecked

Misaligned client expectations are the number one reason why partnerships end and clients leave! Unmet expectations are a surefire way to make your client unhappy and unsatisfied with their results. 

If you want to build consistent, predictable, recurring retainer revenue every month (and with a full client roster to boot), you have to deliver stellar results. But you can’t fulfill your promises if you don’t establish what to realistically expect! 

You can’t create a true, effective, strong partnership until you’re on the same page with your client. To make that happen, your clients need a full understanding of PR’s power and value. You and your client need to get aligned on what you’re going to do, what you’re able to do, and the expected timeline of everything, plus what’s expected of them during your partnership. 

You don’t want your prospective client to think that PR is totally passive. They may expect that they can just hire you, give no input on what you do (or have no role in the process), and get amazing, out-of-this-world results instantly.

The best way to set yourself, your clients, and your business up for success is to align expectations. 

How to Spot Unrealistic Client Expectations

But how do unrealistic client expectations actually show up on a discovery call? Well, if your prospective client mentions wanting immediate results or has a (way too high) quota of monthly media placements, alarm bells should be ringing in your head. Major red flag right there! 

If you can’t reshape their expectations or get them to budge on that monthly quota, it’s best that you politely decline working with that client. There’s just no way you’d ever be able to make them happy! The stress and frustration is not worth it. 

Consider redirecting those clients toward agencies that deliver services more suited to their needs. A client who insists on immediate (or guaranteed) results would do much better with social media or paid advertising since PR is, at its core, so dependent on the media’s timing and long-term storytelling. 

Remember that YOU are the expert here – you know what you need to be set up for PR success, and if you can’t get that from the client, send them to someone who can help them and move on. 

How to Make Sure Your Clients Have Realistic Expectations 

So you know that you need to align with your clients on what’s reasonable, but how do you make sure they actually have realistic expectations? It all comes down to what you do on the discovery call. 

Inside The Agency Accelerator, we dive deep into vetting your clients, managing expectations, and successful discovery call communication (and so much more, of course!). 

Educate Your Clients About PR

The most important thing you can do to make sure your clients have realistic expectations is educating them about PR. 

Do your potential clients understand what a PR professional actually does? Be ready for some wild answers here! 

It’s up to you to take their responses and reshape their view of PR. 

Before you get onto the discovery call, have value-based talking points ready to go about the actual value of PR. For the ultimate guide for hosting successful discovery calls (and creating proposals, onboarding, and so much more) join us inside The Agency Accelerator!

Make sure you’re clear that PR doesn’t guarantee sales or increase revenue—although it can. That’s a super common (misaligned) expectation, and you’ll best serve your clients if you can nip it in the bud right away.

Explain how PR can help amplify their other advertising or marketing efforts, along with their key brand messaging. Talk about how PR creates consumer demand, especially when certain retailers are mentioned. You can also share how PR can reach potential customers at multiple touchpoints in a really condensed period of time. 

If they think that PR equals sales, be clear that PR can impact that metric, but that sales is not one of the KPIs that determines the success of a PR campaign. 

Explain How PR Is Cumulative 

The next major part in your prospective client’s PR education is knowing that PR is cumulative. This is the key to realistic client expectations! 

It takes time to see PR results, but once you get the ball rolling, everything snowballs. You’re telling compelling stories to get people interested…people need to hear about it multiple times before word starts spreading! Results happen once people see a brand story in multiple places. 

It also takes a while for your pitches to convert into placements, and for those placements to actually reach consumers and prompt them to take action. 

PR isn’t the quick shot in the arm that so many businesses think it is! It takes time to get everything flowing and for the brand to see conversions from media placements. 

You know that the biggest value of PR is building momentum for brands. The clients that have the best success view PR as an ongoing effort. You shouldn’t work with a client who wants to give you less than 4 months to work with them – such a short timeframe is setting you up for failure! 

Set Client Expectations Regarding Placements and Results

It’s not just about setting client expectations on the value and power of PR – you need to set their expectations on media placements and results, too. 

No client should expect to be showcased in Forbes right off the bat. Take the time to explain your normal process for a brand of their size and history, like starting with smaller outlets or local media first, and then growing into bigger publications before moving onto nationwide media. 

This is a great time to reiterate how PR is cumulative. Those smaller outlets help you ramp up the buzz that gets a brand into major publications! 

Related: 4 Questions to Ask a Client Before You Start Working With Them

Give Your Prospective Client a Clear Picture of What Working With You Is Like

The last piece of the client expectations puzzle is to clearly show them what it’ll be like to work with you. Be open with your work boundaries and standard processes. 

When will you be available for meetings and how will communication work? How will you report results, and how often will you share that information with your client? 

Answer all their questions so they know exactly what to expect as you begin your partnership.

A lot of clients will come into your partnership expecting you to fully focus on them and only work with them. But you know that that’s never the case! You need to set client expectations on when you’ll be accessible to them and how your boundaries are enforced.   

Dealing with unrealistic client expectations is tough, but you can easily avoid them by really going deep with clients during the discovery call. With a little PR education and some serious expectation realignment, you’ll all get on the same page and start off your partnership on the right foot.