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Is the ‘Client/Partner’ Label Spin or a Serious Definition?

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If you work with new business pitches for any amount of time, you will see one of the hidden mysteries of PR pitching unfold in a matter of minutes: how an agency transforms from a vendor to a “trusted partner.”

This is the magical moment when PR agencies are no longer looked at as “hired guns,” but rather “extensions of the marketing team to help reach a common goal.” This is when value of opinion becomes a thing. This is when execution of big ideas become a thing. And this is when your retainer is no longer “a thing.”

Shouldn’t the same happen for clients from the agency perspective? And if so (and it really should, in case you’re wondering), when is that moment?

I have often said that I am no longer interested in “clients.” Rather, give me a cause and those people become partners immediately.

For some reason, and I don’t know when it happened in the PR industry, but “client” became a bad word. It grew a stigma of negativity like mold in the kitchen in one of those restaurant remodeling shows, only funkier. I believe the recession had much to do with this transformation. In 2008, PR agencies of every size got the same call from the same client organization: “We are re-evaluating our vendor relationships.”

customer-surveyAnd that’s when it hit decision makers, “What’s up with this vendor crap? We thought you liked us.”

The word didn’t get redefined but the relationship got a serious (and much-needed) overhaul. PR agencies began working on becoming partners by knowing people at every level in the organization. Why? The snobs get run out of town, but it’s really difficult to fire someone you like.

Shouldn’t that translate into life at an agency being so much easier working with a partner instead of a client? 

Some agency websites are changing primary navigation, terms in RFPs, and the way they communicate about the companies they represent as a result. The evolving of the client into a partner is a good thing about PR, but we need to be careful about making that change a cheesy one.

MEMO to PR FIRMS: Only call someone a partner if you mean it. Trust me, you don’t have a good poker face where that is concerned. If you don’t believe me, ask the last guy who was called a partner to his face, but for the vendor notice over the phone.

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