Managing Client Expectations

It’s October. This time last year, many of us in Red Sox Nation were living the dream. The Yankees were sent packing for the off-season and the Boston Red Sox were en route to winning the World Series.

This year, the Red Sox, who many sports pundits thought could be the first to repeat as world champions since the Yankees won three straight from 1998 – 2000, limped out of September in third place in their division without so much as a passing glance at a wild card berth.

Despite a rough spring training, Red Sox leadership was happy to fan the flame that burned in the hearts of the Red Sox faithful, but by the end of May, the expectations of repeat greatness were slipping away.

Which brings us to managing expectations—and clients.

In public relations, it’s one thing to believe in the cause and exude confidence, but it’s quite another to lead a client down the garden path of their grand expectations that stand a slim chance of being met. You don’t have to be a naysayer, but you don’t have to be a cheerleader either for bad ideas. (See: Red Sox see no need for a closer.)

If a client thinks a minor piece of news warrants a “media event,” but in fact, it won’t even raise an eyebrow, a knowledgeable PR professional is going to speak up and do it constructively. Savvy clients will listen as alternatives are offered up that lay out the desired outcomes. Instead of a news conference, which likely will lead to an embarrassing concert of crickets, perhaps that minor nugget of information could be pitched to a beat reporter as part of a larger story that includes other stakeholders. The story is covered, the client is featured, everyone wins.

Maybe the client wants to launch a new product in time for a high-volume buying season, but all the crucial pieces are not quite ready. The PR pro in the room will explain the long-term consequences of launching a great product but without the support of an up-to-speed sales team or a consistent supply chain.

The expectations game can be difficult to play. It’s hard to walk the line between denying clients what they want yet delivering what they expect. There needs to be an understanding that if all the elements needed for success are not in place, it’s nearly impossible to bring the client a win.

Or put another way, you may have the highest payroll in Major League Baseball, but if you don’t have good pitching, you’re not going to win.

Felicia Knight is President of The Knight Canney Group and is the Maine representative for PRConsultants Group. She is a veteran PR professional with a background in journalism and government policy. She also has unconditional love for the Boston Red Sox.

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