What Makes a Good Client (and a Bad One)

I was asked by a new client years ago, “What makes a good client?”

The question took me aback. I’d always focused on being a good (if not great) agency; now here was someone on the client side (where I spent more than half my career) putting some of the onus of the success of the relationship on themselves. 

It was a smart question.

Now, years later, here’s my answer…

No TODAY Show-itis

We used to say that the three warning signs that we were slated for a rough ride with a client was when they invoked this holy trilogy of expectations when it comes to media relations placements: The TODAY Show, Oprah! and Parade magazine. Truth be told, we’ve had our share of TODAY Show placements over the years, but more often than not, it’s not reasonable to expect that you’ll be sharing the set with Savannah or Hoda, or even Al. A better approach is to figure out which media outlets are most valuable to your important client prospects, and very often that means a trade outlet or other niche publications. 

Share and Share Alike

We’re not mind-readers, and while we understand that clients may be dealing internally with proprietary information, for the most part, our partnerships work best when we’re seen as an extension of your internal team. And that means keeping us up to date on company news – new products, branding rollouts, executive appointments, financials and even when bad news is coming down the pike. Hey, remember that we’re on your side, and the more information we have, the better we can help tell your story with the right nuance and emphasis. 


There are few things that are more frustrating than a lack of responsiveness from a client. We typically have weekly status calls with our clients so that we can review where things stand with various assignments (both ours and the client). But there are maddening moments when we have secured a placement, and the reporter has a pressing deadline, and the client has gone MIA. We might be so close we could touch it, then poof – the delay in getting back to us becomes that big fish story about the one that got away. 

Subject Matter Escapees

What’s that admonition from Jesus about not hiding your light under a bushel? We’d make the same case to subject-matter experts (SMEs) of clients who are sometimes less than forthcoming in sharing their expertise. Sometimes they don’t recognize the value of what they know. Sometimes they are reluctant to share insights that they don’t consider original or profound. And sometimes they have trouble seeing the forest for the trees, i.e. understanding the context of how their expertise fits into a larger story. But that’s where we come in. Give us some consistent face time with internal SMEs, and more often than not, we can extract storylines and angles that work. Through it all, remember again, YOU’RE the expert, and our collective success is really dependent on you feeding the content machine.

Going Through the Motions

Those clients whose expectations are too lofty have a counterpart – clients who don’t fully appreciate the value of what public relations can do, whether it’s that third-party validation that comes from a well-placed media hit or that steady stream of expert content appearing in the social media feeds of key prospects. While internal comms folks get it, the frustration often lies in the challenge of finding resources to fully support communications objectives. Sure, there are SMEs who understand the big picture, that raising the company’s profile and enhancing its expertise position is good for business. But there are too many who see these efforts as more ego-driven or a distraction from the higher-priority work of serving their own clients. A commitment to the cause is essential to being a good client.

What about you? What do you think makes for a good or bad client? Or for that matter, a good or bad agency?

Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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