The Ultimate Guide to Account Management for Digital PR
There’s a lot written about account management already and this certainly isn’t an attempt to rewrite it, challenge or disprove it, BUT, I think digital PR account management commands its own personal space.
So here’s my take..
I’ve spent nearly eight years managing my own accounts, supporting others managing theirs, and mopping up the fallouts, when inevitably things go wrong.
Unfortunately, most account management (like mine) is self-taught, on the job, by making mistakes, and if you’re sensible, Googling it first.
So here goes, this is everything I’ve learnt about account management in digital PR, from communication, scheduling and pitching ideas to reporting and handling that nagging self-doubt.
Let’s start by tackling one of the most important skills required in account management and unfortunately, one of the trickiest to get right – communication.
DO agree a communication strategy
When you start working with a new client or team, agree what communication is expected, when and via what channel – some teams love Slack, others prefer a call or weekly email.
I’ve had clients complain in the past about lack of communication, but never about too much communication – so err on the side of caution and they’ll soon tell you if they’re hearing from you too much!
Tip – with clients (and teams) in different time zones e.g. US or Australia, agree set times of the day for communication (you can also add an additional time zone to your Google calendar to streamline scheduling).
I also love this live time zone tool, it shows you what time it is anywhere in the world in relation to you.
DO make sure you stick to your communication agreement
The moment you get sloppy with your comms, your account will start to suffer. You think I’m exaggerating? Give it a go!
What happens is you start to lose the trust you built up with your client and their team and then they start to wonder what you’re doing with your time and how committed you are to their account. Simple. The rest is downhill from there.
DO a thorough handover
Off on holiday? Make sure you:
- Know who you’re handing over your accounts and work to whilst your away AND let your clients know in advance
- Make sure that handover is like War and Peace – it covers everything your colleagues need to know about the campaigns you’re working on with attachments or links to all the documents and the status of each.
DO record all minutes from meetings
This might seem like a particular ball-ache (and it is) BUT it will save you on more than one occasion.
After every call or in-person meeting, make sure you follow-up with thorough notes about what was discussed and actions stating who is going to do what and by when. Then email it to everyone involved in that call/meeting and ask if there was anything missing.
This WILL save you. The next time a colleague or client says “we never agreed that” you’ll be able to prove that you did.
Tip – if it’s an important meeting invite another team member to take notes whilst you control the meeting. It’s really difficult to talk, think and take notes, so take the pressure off and let someone else do that part so you don’t miss anything important and you get all your points across properly.
There are platforms like mindup.co that connect to your calendar so you can take notes for all your meetings (we’re currently trialing this) so we’ll keep you posted on how we get on as this would save a LOT of time!
DO have a crisis comms strategy in place
This is a new one for us.
Following a campaign that nearly went sideways just before launch, we agreed with the client that in the future if a crisis were to arise, we would have a communication process in place so both we and the client know who is responsible for what and when.
DO be human
Over the years, I’ve found that being professional is good but actually in most social situations (even professional), people want to connect to you, they want to find a way to relate to you.
And when you’ve got a situation that is going wrong, one of the best ways to start to fix that situation is to be human – be open and honest.
Sometimes being honest, admitting some fault and using a little humour can take you a long way in rectifying a situation and can in the long run even improve the relationship.
When I talk about project management, I feel It should be in relation to ‘sprints’ and being ‘agile’ but I think as an agency we’ve worked on too many websites in the past.
But there are many similarities between creating a website and creating a campaign, both require planning, scheduling, testing and much more.
DO use project management software
If you’ve got multiple accounts and campaigns and people working on those campaigns both internally and externally then you WILL require some form of project management support either in the form of a spreadsheet or something a little more sophisticated.
When scheduling our campaigns we use Monday, but you could use Gannt charts, Podio, or any similar project management tool. The key is to use it consistently and share your clients in IF they want.
DON’T rush ideation
When planning campaign schedules, make sure you give as much time to ideation as you do outreach, especially for a campaign / account with high KPIs.
The worst thing you can do is rush the ideation process and put a time limit on your creativity. Factor in plenty of time to revisit ideas, to check their feasibility and if need be, go back to the drawing board.
If you’re in need of some tips and inspiration watch our webinar with Mark Johnstone on the biggest ideation challenges and how to overcome them
DO present campaign ideas consistently
Every agency has a different way of presenting their campaign ideas to clients, some prefer a deck, some prefer a doc with tables (us) – may sound boring but we do it for good reason to make sure we’ve really thought about the idea in-depth before getting caught up in the visuals or the format.
However you choose to present your ideas, make sure it’s always consistent so the client knows what to expect and can easily review your ideas each time.
Most of us don’t have the pitching skills of Steve Jobs, even though we’re presenting ideas to teams and clients weekly!
DO be persuasive
One of the roles as the account manager is to pitch campaign ideas to the client, to convince the client to trust you with a particular idea or set of ideas. The riskier the idea, the more convincing and persuasive you’ll need to be. This is a skill that comes much easier to some than others, but it can be learnt and there are some great talks and books out there that can help build your confidence in this area.
But in order to really sell an idea, you need to believe in it yourself in order to get behind it, otherwise you won’t be able to talk about it with any passion.
For example, when pitching ideas, we pitch a max of five, any more is overwhelming and we only put ideas forwards if we think they have a good chance of success.
In The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar, she looks at how people make choices and why you need to offer few choices to customers and clients:
“When people are given a moderate number of options (4 to 6) rather than a large number (20 to 30), they are more likely to make a choice, are more confident in their decisions, and are happier with what they choose.”
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is also well worth a read to understand the psychology of how to relate to people to create better relationships.
DO have a newsjacking process in place
If you want to beat other agencies and brands to the post, you have to be nimble. From the start, we find out what experts our clients have internally and how quickly they can respond with comments or tips etc for newsjacking.
For example we warn clients that they may need to respond in less than thirty minutes to be successful – so a good account manager will have internal experts on speed dial (or the email / Slack equivalent).
In order to secure coverage from newsjacking, the JBH team aims to produce and get content signed off within an hour.
Below is an example of coverage gained newsjacking listicle content off the back of the Amazon’s acquisition of MGM for our client ZenBusines.
DON’T forget to track your links
You worked damn hard to build those links, so make sure that spreadsheet is up to date especially if you have LIVE reporting like JBH and your client could check in at any time for an update!
DON’T ignore the elephant in the room
So it’s time to provide an update, but you don’t have any new links or coverage to show your client.
The worst thing you can do is not send that email. Instead, think about what positives you can mention (any sniffs from journalists?) and what your strategy will be for outreach for next week – what angles will you focus on / how can you re-pitch it?
Provide a positive update and don’t give the impression you’ve already given up. Because if you’ve set your campaign up right, there’s plenty more angles to be outreached.
DON’T go rogue
I’ve heard this happen a few times recently (not JBH) – digital PRs sending out pitches without getting the content signed off by the client first.
This is really reckless, you may just want to get something out, but it destroys the trust you’ve built with your client AND it can land your client in trouble with their management too, especially if they operate in regulated sectors like healthcare, law, finance or education for example.
DON’T resort to Twitter
We’ve all been there, we’ve all had bad days with our clients, where you’re butting heads over whether you can launch a campaign or count a tier one nofollow link against your targets.
However, before you have a rant on Twitter or fire off a subtweet (they’ll know), just remember that there MAYBE things going on that you’re unaware of, other stresses on your client. So try not to take things personally and try to put yourself in their shoes for a moment.
Just step away from the keyboard..
Tip – a long time ago I was told never to reply OR send an email when angry. Go for a walk, wait a least an hour to really cool down and then come back with a clearer head.
DON’T wing it
As employers we might use the phrase ‘there are no silly questions’ and we mean this.
You might think your manager is sick of your questions and might not be able to handle another, but we’d much prefer you ask a question than just winging it.
Sometimes winging it can result in a methodology being torn to pieces by a journalist or a press release not being signed off which could have devastating consequences for a campaign (and account), so always ask if unsure.
DON’T beat yourself up
It’s very easy when things do go wrong to blame yourself and let the doubt set in, but these are always temporary situations that are always fixed and we learn and grow from each experience.
It’s important to see the big picture, that you’re doing a fantastic job overall and this is just a blip. For a reminder of what a good job you’re doing, look back at your successes.
Kirsty Hulse always has great advice on managing self doubt whilst giving us a daily boost..
DON’T overschedule your week
We’re all guilty of seeing gaps in our calendar and cramming more calls in when clients request them and then wondering why we have no time in our day to get work done, but don’t be afraid to question whether that call is actually needed, whether it can wait until your weekly catch up instead.
If in doubt, ask what is going to be discussed on the call and if it’s not urgent, could it wait? Nine times out of ten, it probably can, freeing you up to actually get some work done.
DO fake it until you make it
Unfortunately clients need and want to see that their account is managed by someone that knows what they’re doing.
You may have the knowledge and experience but struggle with self-confidence in certain situations like leading client calls or presenting ideas in front of a team. And when you’re presenting ideas and trying to convince a client that they should go for a particular idea, you need to appear confident.
For many years I struggled with confidence and I still struggle with confidence occasionally today in high pressure situations, so I do understand.
In order to tackle my own lack of self-confidence and fear of public speaking head-on, a few years ago I went on an intensive public speaking course which made a world of difference.
There are some really inspiring TED talks about building confidence that I really recommend, and until you’re there, I rate this talk about using power poses to fake it until you make it – they’re fun simple tips and they make you feel good.
It does get easier, it just takes time, trust me!
After writing this, I’m reminded what a difficult job it is being an account manager and how many skills are required to do this role, so hats off to all you AMs out there!