Here’s a true story about a freelancer and their client, a director of communications, when a new CMO came on board.
One of the CMO’s first questions was how well the communications program was going. The client told the CMO it was exceeding goals and walked him through highlights and upcoming opportunities.
It wasn’t long before it became clear that the CMO had a slightly different agenda. Prior to the meeting, he looked at the company’s biggest competitors. and then took a closer look at the corporate website. The CMO then asked the question that makes every communications person cringe. He wanted to know why there wasn’t more press coverage. It wasn’t a question. It was a statement and the CMO wasn’t open to hearing excuses.
Make sure results are up-to-date and easily accessible
Over the next few days, the freelancer and their client quickly pulled together a comprehensive dashboard detailing the communications program results. They discovered they were earning 25 percent more press coverage than the two closest competitors. While the competition had more social media posts, the client had more online engagement with the most powerful influencers.
Present a balanced and complete view of activities
In the follow-up meeting with the CMO, the director of communications didn’t tell him some of the factors that negatively affected the program. For example, brand name customer references that were often widely discussed internally wouldn’t go on the record. And the person responsible for updating the website didn’t consistently post press coverage in the online newsroom.
The client and freelancer knew better than to point fingers at colleagues. Yet they could have outlined some of the challenges along with how they were being fixed. Still, the CMO was not convinced he had the right communications team in place.
The bottom line is that while the communications program was solid, the efforts and results weren’t properly merchandized to avoid this type of conversation.
It’s never fun to start a new client relationship in defensive mode, but there were some valuable lessons learned.
Agree on the evaluation criteria
Before diving into how to merchandize your work, make sure your client is speaking the same language when it comes to setting goals and measuring results.
For example, this particular CMO saw the competition had lots of links to press coverage. He didn’t realize that they weren’t actual news stories. They were obscure websites that reposted press releases verbatim. The freelancer and client had to explain the difference between earned media coverage and news pickup, how paid coverage can sometimes appear to be earned until you read it more closely, and that the competition was actually damaging its credibility with that type of coverage.
Also, the stakeholders should be in agreement that the program’s focus is on quality versus quantity. Anybody can post online, but engaging genuine influencers requires real thought. Also, it never hurts to remind the client that sometimes it takes time before they’ll see the results of more strategic activities.
Easy tools to showcase your efforts and results
For some freelancers, marketing their work feels awkward because they don’t want to appear to be grandstanding or step on their client’s toes. Other freelancers say they’re so busy achieving results that they struggle finding time to properly market what they’ve done. You have make time for it.
Don’t wait for your client to champion your work during an awkward conversation with the boss. Instead, provide them with the right information packaged in a way that increases the value of your collective efforts. For those who say they don’t have enough time to prepare reports, compare how long it takes to merchandize your work to an existing client with how long it takes to find a new one.
Here are simple, yet effective ways that make it easy for the client to never question your worth.
Available as part of G Suite, Google Sheets are live documents that can be edited and viewed by key stakeholders. They’re a great way to make sure your client always knows the current status of every program 24/7.
Google Sheets are also a great way to avoid getting bogged down creating detailed status reports that can detract you from achieving results.
Video Highlights Reel
Depending on how active your marketing and communications is, consider doing a quarterly, semi-annual or annual highlights reel. Or creating a specific video for a high profile campaign.
Create a presentation that’s easy to follow, shows continued progress, and includes how your stack up against the competition.
Build Your Rep
Make authentic connections throughout the company and build quality relationships with key stakeholders across the company. This includes the website team responsible for updating press coverage, social media to amplify your results, sales to identify public references, internal communications to share results in executive memos and newsletters, etc.
As you make more connections throughout the company, you’re also building strong, internal word-of-mouth.
Give and Share Credit
In all of your emails and reports, be sure to properly recognize everyone’s efforts. Also, if you weren’t the driver of a program, but are the first to spot the results (analyst report, great piece of press coverage, etc.), don’t be so fast to hit the send button on that email. First, check in with your client and/or the person leading the effort to make sure they’re aware and are spreading the word. Otherwise, you risk looking like a credit monger.
Ask about internal processes for sharing results
Make sure your work is included in relevant places such as the intranet, Slack groups, etc.
Don't Neglect Your Own Online Presence
Finally, as a freelancer, don’t neglect your own website and social presence. It’s important to stay active, post client results, and if possible, run successful campaigns for your own business. It’s not easy, but it is important — especially when that new executive wants to know who’s responsible for their communications program and checks you out online.