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In 1909, Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of Selfridge’s department store in London, coined the infamous phrase, “the customer is always right.” It was meant to be a message to customers that they will get good service at his stores, but it was also a service model to his employees directing how he wanted them to treat their patrons.

More than 100 years after Selfridge introduced this notion, it still makes a point, but most would agree that point is well outdated and can cause more harm than good.

In the PR and marketing services industry, this holds true as well. Any sensible client already knows this: they aren’t paying you so they can be right. They are paying you for a service. They are paying for your counsel and expertise. Just saying ‘yes’ to them blindly will create more problems than it solves.

We can’t all be ‘yes’ people

For someone new to the PR and marcomm world and trying to establish themselves, rushing to say ‘yes’ is a common mistake. While well founded and exemplary of a good, can-do attitude, just saying ‘yes’ without a strategy behind your answer can lead a team down a tricky path. Especially if the goal is just not attainable and a failure has to be admitted.

Striking a balance

Providing good client service requires striking a balance. There will be plenty of opportunities to impress clients with ‘yes’ and deliver the strong results for which they asked. But there will also be times when you need to lessen expectations. It’s not uncommon for a client to feel something they’re announcing or a problem they are solving is newsworthy, when it’s not to anyone outside of the organization. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this view, as most often it just represents the pride they have for their organization, which isn’t a bad attitude.

Or, a client might suggest submitting for an award that is a notorious pay-for-play and carries no industry value, or they’ll might want to pursue a briefing with a reporter known for being difficult or writing inaccurate articles, that could lead to brand damage instead of promotion. Rather than saying yes to every request, you have an opportunity to educate based on your knowledge of the industry, that this approach may not help them, and recommend a stronger alternative.

When striking that balance, trust your expertise, and don’t just say ‘yes.’ Advise your client. Counsel them. Understand what they are ultimately trying to accomplish and how to best get there. Explain why something may not yield the desired results, but be sure to offer an alternate strategy that may better help them reach their goals.

Business relationships mirror personal ones. If promises are made, it’s expected that one will keep that promise. Blindly saying yes and agreeing to get a client whatever they ask for can often result in a promise broken. Broken promises usually lead to broken business relationships. Pushing back from time to time and setting realistic expectations, will help assure that one’s word is kept.

Be more than a vendor, be an extension of their team

At Metis Communications, our first core value is to believe in chemistry. This means many things, including, in order to do your best work, you must have the trust of your teammates and your clients. To gain trust, just do your best work and deliver great results to everyone, both internally and externally.

Once there is trust, collaboration always takes off, teams generate strong results and a team begins to become a true extension of their client. “Us” and “them” becomes simply, “we.” When that chemistry solidifies, teams become capable of truly great things.