Client partnerships: This is how we do it

As we recently marked the 15-year milestone in our agency’s life, we’ve been thinking a lot about the next 15 – about who we are and where we are going.  In taking stock of our expertise and values, what’s clear is that our commitment to customer service stands out, becoming a defining part of our identity and culture.

In 2002, we made a conscious decision about our last name: Partnership.  It was not so much a reflection of the alliance between our two founding partners as it was a marker for how we regard our relationships with our clients – as partners with whom we work shoulder to shoulder in devising and carrying out public relations programs that work for them.  These hand-in-glove partnerships are the foundation for how we serve, advise and relate to our clients.

Thankfully, our clients apparently agree.  The most recent round of client satisfaction surveys – done anonymously – gave us high marks for customer service.  And if you’ll indulge this sound of our slapping ourselves on our backs, here’s a survey response that was a mic drop moment for us: “Hodges delivers open, candid and real-world counsel.”

We spend a lot of time with our clients – in person, on the phone and over email. We learn what makes them tick, laugh and even stress out, and over time, we forge relationships that go beyond the workplace, including those that have endured many years.  Among our current batch of clients, there are about eight clients with whom we have been working five to 10 years.  Our best client relationships develop when we are working for good people who aspire to do better for themselves, their company and their community.

Over the years we’ve coalesced around a few principles that define our approach to client service. Here’s a few of them:

  • Start with a smooth (and quick) onboarding. We want to know where they’ve been and where they want to go. We spend time getting to know the company, asking questions and digging deeper before developing a plan and moving forward with recommendations. Then we set goals and achieve them together.
  • Immerse ourselves in the industry. We want to be able to talk the talk and see the direction the industry is moving. We read the trades, follow the verticals and connect with the influencers in the industry who can help us read the cards. The more we know, the more we can help.
  • Know the clients’ goals. The best way we can help is when clients trust us to collaborate and strategize. We want to know what’s keeping our clients up at night, and what they’re working toward. We want to make them look good while we make their organization shine.
  • Be indispensable. That not only means being at the ready to respond in a moment of need, it also means having valuable insights that fit the situation at hand.  And it means being honest.  Clients are not always right, and our relationships have to be strong enough to let them know when we disagree.
  • Treat every client like they’re your only client. A golden rule in the agency world is to “love the one you’re with.” Clients know we have other clients and projects, but that’s the extent that they should know. Every client should believe that they are our top priority.
  • Keep calm and be easy to work with. Don’t sweat the small stuff and lose sight of the big stuff. We don’t overcomplicate things or create extra layers for the sake of it. Life’s hard sometimes, let’s keep the workplace positive.  Being easy to work with also comes with a commitment to transparency.  Our clients never have to wonder what we’re working on or when they’ll get the next deliverable.

For those of you on the client side of the spectrum, what is it that you look for in your agency partnerships?

Lindsay O'Bar

Lindsay’s work focuses on community relations, internal communications and media relations for companies like Kroger, Virginia’s Community Colleges and the Virginia Department of Transportation. By marrying research and strategic thinking, she helps clients thoughtfully engage audiences and the community while driving business results.

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