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    Monday, November 16, 2009

    The Client/Service Provider Divide – Lessons in Over Familiarity!

    A big part of PR is about whether the face fits – the decision to engage one provider over another can come down to synergy. It really helps when you just ‘get’ each other.

    So where is the line when it comes to familiarity? A few tales spring to mind that I think are good examples of overstepping the mark.

    For instance, I worked for a guy in the early days who was pretty laid back. He was received well mostly, but I do remember going in for a big pitch that we’d spent weeks preparing for. When the marketing director reached out to take a slide printout from our stack he smacked her hand with a ruler and said jokingly ‘wait until you are offered!’ She blushed and it was very embarrassing… needless to say, we didn’t win the account.

    Then there was a manager in my team who figured the best way to connect with the client was to socialise with them.. OK, nothing wrong with that. But one night out, heavily laced with alcohol I might add, eventually took her to a strip club. She desperately didn’t want to go in but also didn’t want to seem uncool, in case it affected the client relationship. Well he sensed she felt awkward, he felt awkward that she felt awkward… can you guess the ending? He just couldn’t face her again and the partnership was quickly dissolved.

    Onto Christmas parties. Of course, I also know the PR manager that ended up in an embrace with a married client and was promptly dismissed the next day.
    And there’s the wardrobe malfunction. There was an incident with a PR director and the strap of her cocktail dress, which chose to come unfastened at an awards dinner at precisely the point that she was being introduced to her client’s CEO. Again, the relationship was irreparable. (OK that one was an example of unintentional over familiarity, but the lesson there would be choose your outfit sensibly – anything that requires the forgoing of underwear probably shouldn’t be your number one choice for a business event).

    All of the above are pretty extreme examples of overstepping the familiarity line - here are a few day to day tips for maintaining that bond without pushing the boundaries:

    • Don’t use overly familiar terms like ‘mate’ unless your client uses them first and you are sure it’s ok

    • Keep sharing down to a minimum.. your client might well think your exploits over the weekend are funny, but at the end of the day business is business and you risk a judgement on your business ethics based on your social life

    • Don’t abuse a close working relationship by assuming it’s ok to overrun deadlines, show up late to meetings, ‘wing it’ by arriving unprepared etc.

    • Take it easy with the alcohol at formal events and client parties, you still need to appear in control and professional
    • Go easy on the smilies in your emails and texts ! Save them for your friends, you want to come across as a professional, not a teenager

    • Strictly no scratching, picking or belching – I hope I don’t have to be more explicit! If that means not accepting a coke to drink in a meeting, so be it!

    • Essentially you are representing your company and its ability to conduct business – try not to do anything that shows that in a negative light.