a man in a business suit extends his arm for a handshake at the beginning of a business relationship

Public relations can be a transactional business. Marketers and clients often think of each other in terms of hours, invoices, rush charges, and the bottom line. But when we approach PR in these terms, everyone suffers.

Relationships are the cornerstone of strong, effective public relations. By investing in our relationships early and often, we craft lasting, consistent, and mutually beneficial partnerships with our clients.

The calling card of an inexperienced business services professional is a “just pay me” mindset. Here’s the work, pay my invoice, I’ll see you later. But this is a shortsighted approach, where you only see the trees and not the forest. If you don’t think about the work you’ll do for your client in a month or a year or five years, you’ll lose a dollar to save a nickel every time. A strong relationship means long-term engagements, referrals, and more value from your clients. The best PR work comes out of engagements based on trust between practitioner and client. There are a lot of uncertain variables in PR, and the client needs to trust that the PR professional is making decisions in their best interest when they shop stories and form strategies on their behalf. 

I’ll give you an example from a client of mine. When we began working together, they were just four partners in a tiny NYC office planning to disrupt the direct investments industry. From the beginning, they were clear that they were operating on a modest budget. They were breaking into a new industry and up against some very large, well-entrenched competitors. But what my clients did have was a truly innovative product and perfect market timing. So, we made the decision to work with them on an hourly basis until their products got traction. We helped them create a major PR splash, and within three months they converted us to a monthly retainer. Within a year, they doubled that retainer.

This is how you create lasting win-win relationships with your clients. It’s about more than just the work. To get the most out of this business, you need to get over your fear of being screwed. That means believing in your client’s product and working with companies you trust will succeed. 

Years ago, I witnessed something truly inspirational. A client of mine, an insurance salesman named Sid Friedman, was a self-made millionaire. As an author of some fantastic sales performance books, he was considered an authority in that field. At this time, he was diagnosed with cancer and he knew was going to die. He decided he would do a speaking tour, and we came up with the title for his seminar–“Produce or Die”. He embraced it, because the power of transparency about his cancer fueled the performance of his seminars and strengthened his relationships with the sales people who came to hear him. He took that vulnerable, personal moment, and he showed how you could incorporate it into your work. He knew that a relationship was more important than a quick sale.

In PR you get the most out of yourself and those around you when you think of them as humans, rather than numbers. Trust and understanding are beneficial in a lot of fields, but they’re the backbone of ours.