Sue Souter – Thoughts on client advocacy and relationships

My kids will tell you that I am forever calling out bad communication – communicaaaaaaation – to be heard in exasperation – as the latest bump in the road – siblings, wider family, work, society in general – could have been averted with a better bit of it.

I was always headed for a career in communications – my mother was an enthusiastic wordsmith – she still is at 88 – and encouraged it in me. Top in English and with a wicked wit she once had a poem published about the animals from a zoo locking up the zoo-keepers and going on a Big Day Out. She inspired me.

So from entertainment to education to negotiation to persuasion to influence for good or ill, communication is central to all society as we know it. I have spent the last 30 years bending it to my will or at least trying to in PR terms, with a view to helping clients say the right things at the right times to build seriously good businesses.

That role and responsibility for advocacy – the PR championing of a client or a cause – has never been more important in a world where we are ‘all publishers now’ and regulated media channels battle unregulated ones for supremacy in the information and persuasion game.

Fake news might rule – AI taking us into horrifying new territory here – but in reality there are no rules now.

So what do I draw on every day to keep delivering great PR client relationships and successful campaigns?

Show integrity

You really can’t blag it in the long-term so make sure your client is not trying to do that. You will get found out. Consistency, keeping it real and true will build relationships – not just with clients, but with journalists and influencers who will grow to trust you as an excellent source of information – meaning we all win.

The BBC is still top dog in ‘the most likely to be true’ debate, although nobody – not even them – gets it right all the time as we have seen all too recently. They tend to do more than most so I – and leading SEO channels like Moz – hold them up as the barometer of trust.

So 100 (out of 100) is the perfect domain authority (trust) rating for a piece of web coverage and as far as I know only the BBC has ever earned it.

Be a proud advocate and look for it in others

People who get advocacy make the best clients because they understand it is a long-term game and that you need to build advocates from all walks of life – starting with those closest to your brand – to be truly successful.

Brand advocates also back you when something goes wrong, supporting an out of character message, which will aid quicker recovery.

Understand what it means to have empathy

It’s an under-rated skill in business. Empathy allows you to see the full picture, walk the road in someone else’s shoes, understand reasons why people behave a certain way.

Whether its a hard to reach journalist, or an under performing junior, or a marketing manager with massive expectations, taking time to understand the why, what’s driving that attitude, does, at least, bring you to a sensible starting point.

And be warned it may never be fixed. I worked for one marketing manager who was determined to get national media coverage for a less than national story line and she was not to be deterred. Tears. Were. Shed. I miscued an outburst with my boss and there were consequences. It’s not always easy.

Use your experience

I draw on my 37-year PR career every day to try to get the best results for people.

That starts with simple stuff like a programme of work and timescale for delivery. It starts with getting to know people, their business challenges and building relationships.

You can’t work in PR consultancy if you don’t want to get to know people – usually lots of people – all with different needs, motivations and deadlines. High energy jugglers do well.

It helps to be absolutely fascinated by what’s the next big thing for your clients and their marketplaces and how is it being reported.

It’s made me a news junkie over three decades – I make no apologies – give me a news channel over a light entertainment one any day – although I do declare a weakness for Lee Mack and Tim Vine in Not Going Out. Something to do with the ridiculous pace of the daft gags I guess. They do make me Laugh Out Loud.

Embrace the opportunity

I have never been more excited about the opportunities for high quality, intelligent PR campaigning in today’s AI enabled age. Like most people we are trying to work with it, not against it.

Word on the street is that ChatGPT is over its honeymoon period – something to do with schools being out for the summer! But this is a journey only just beginning. Bring it on!