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Why PR account management is like driving an executive car

Photography from winnoud /
Photography from winnoud /

I remember what it was like when I was promoted to a PR account manager and how I soon learnt that account management is a bit like driving.

I had worked my socks off to proudly own a business card carrying my ‘Account Manager’ job title. But when the promotion came, I found that I wasn’t treated any differently by my peers and my clients.  I wasn’t able to off-load some of the boring admin and felt burdened with even more responsibility and no-one extra to delegate to. Sound familiar?

Let me tell you a secret.

You can gain the respect of clients and support of peers. You can take control and still juggle different accounts. You can avoid over-servicing and deliver. And you can gain the respect of clients and support of colleagues.

Tackle the role like you would if driving an executive car.

As the driver, you have to take your clients efficiently to their destination but you don’t know what traffic problems or road works you might encounter on the way. Plus you need the collaboration of your junior colleagues who are in the car to help you do this. Meanwhile your boss, back at base, is issuing instructions about the next job, or has scheduled in for you to pick up another passenger on the way.
So – how does the driver cope?

Good planning is essential

Clarify what the client wants at the outset of your journey and how you will measure success. What are the parameters you must work within?  Then plan the route, identifying landmarks you need to reach to make steady progress. Estimate resources and timings, conduct a risk analysis and build in contingencies. Read this blog on PR planning made easy.

Use open communication with the client

The end of the journey is where the clients have paid you to take them to. But the reality is that clients are paying passengers, so they are entitled to change their minds as to how they get there – and they often do.  The only problem is that you often have to complete the journey to the same time and using the same resources that you agreed to complete the journey at the outset.   I find it helps to manage expectations by being open.  So, be transparent about what’s achieveable, share the PR plan and provide progress updates throughout.

Suss out the client and build relationships

If you have not taken the client on a trip before, you’ll have to find out how they like to travel – in silence or with you providing some entertainment on the way, how often they expect progress updates and whether they are prone to changing their mind on route and if they will listen and act on your advice.  The more journeys you go on together, the easier it can become.  So, I find it helps to get the first project (journey) complete so that I can establish trust and then reflect on my client’s preferred working style so that the next PR activity (journey) is easier for us both.

Manage the boss

Your boss may have asked you to take along a couple of clients, so you’ll have to juggle your time by managing different accounts simultaneously.  Your boss will be checking in from base from time to time, wanting updates and they’ll decid if you can have extra help on the way. With any luck you might be able two swap a passenger or client with another executive car at a particular service station on route.   So, try to build trust with your boss and learn when to push back and how to negotiate.

Develop the support team

You will soon burn out with stress if you try to do everything yourself or can’t delegate properly. A long car journey with no radio for traffic reports, no mobile phone, no map, no in-car entertainment and no-one to buy drinks and snacks on the way, is no fun.  So, learn to delegate and don’t fall into the trap of taking tasks back because they haven’t been completed the way you would do them.  Recognise that some of the time, you will have to coach and develop others, so tackle this in a strategic way to develop key skills and give juniors the space to try new things in their own way.

Foster good team work

An executive car company will find it much easier to run its business efficiently if the drivers know what areas they and their colleagues are covering and they are motivated to work together when they need to.

An account manager told me how he had once labelled up some cards with the key tasks/roles and laid them out on a table at an initial team briefing meeting.  Then he asked each team member to choose their preferred task.  The result – an empowered team who were totally committed to delivering the PR campaign.  This can work where you have the flexibility to lead a team democratically.   But often, the team structure and skill set means that this isn’t possible – so I find that establishing roles, areas of responsibility and links within the team at the outset, helps foster good team work.

These tips helped me to get into the driving seat when I became a PR account manager.  What has  helped you?

I cover this topic in my Account Management training course and you can find out more about it by getting in touch.

For details on when my next CIPR Account Management training course is running, click here.

Image: winnond /

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