What Cats Can Teach Agency Marketers About Client Service
For many people, August 8 will be just another Monday. But for me, the 8th of August is the one day a year where it’s (mostly) appropriate to share my utter love of all things cat: International Cat Day.
You’re probably wondering what cats have to do with my agency life at Maccabee Public Relations and our field of marketing communications. My answer is, a lot actually. Cats have anchored viral marketing campaigns and TV spots, become influencers courted by big brands and generated huge online buzz while being America’s second favorite pet by a wide margin.
So while we’ve established that cats are astute self-promoters, the true value of what felines can teach communications professionals isn’t campaign strategy – it’s client service.
Professional Development: Cat Cuddling 101
By day I’m a public relations professional; by night I’m a cat cuddler. Yes, that job exists and it is amazing as it sounds.
Walking into the feline room with dozens of cats meowing urgently and grabbing at my clothes is anxiety inducing. So I approach the situation like I would any agency client issue – assess, triage and make it right.
Let me tell you, cats are probably the most difficult clients you’ll ever encounter: they alternate between finicky, amiable and impish in the span of seconds; have high expectations for when and how they like to interact; and can maim you if they don’t get their way.
But it’s these personality traits I find endearing. Working with cats has elevated my patience, empathy and durability, making me a better volunteer and PR professional. In honor of International Cat Day, here are seven lessons cats taught me – and can teach you – about client service.
1) Past Experience Only Gets You in the Door
What you did for a client in the past only serves as context for what you are capable of doing in the future. You’ve got to earn trust and prove yourself – sometimes more than once.
Cat lesson: A cat doesn’t care how I interact with her kennel mate; all that matters is how I treat her.
Client lesson: Clients don’t care about the success I had with another agency client – at least after the contract is signed. If you’re recycling ideas or applying a one-size-fits-all strategy, it will only lead to mediocrity.
2) the importance of Being Present With Clients
Our attention spans may be dwindling, but we owe it to our agency’s stakeholders to focus 100 percent on the task at hand. While the allure of multitasking is strong, not being present makes you appear aloof – and it’s bad for your brain!
Cat lesson: Petting two cats at once may save time, but it’s also dangerous – and I have the scars to prove it.
Client lesson: Doing two tasks for a client at once means you’re probably not doing either one well and will likely need to redo both activities later.
3) The Need to Set Boundaries Early
Early and honest discussions about expectations – whether about campaign results or communication preferences – is the only way to create a mutually beneficial relationship between an agency and its client.
Cat lesson: Stopping a play session because of a bite – even if it’s innocent – helps teach the cat that not all behavior is rewarded. It also means the next person to interact with that cat will likely have a positive, bite-free, experience.
Client lesson: Impossible deadlines, late night phone calls and missed meetings are boundaries crossed by some clients, but it’s a fine line between a one-off and business as usual. It’s okay for an agency staffer to push back when certain behaviors become a pattern. It’s possible the client may not realize it is a problem or could use some help in getting organized.
4) That It’s Not About Me
Client service is about exceeding expectations and that requires a healthy amount of empathy and as little ego as possible.
Cat lesson: I’ve yet to be thanked by a cat for doing, ahem, “dirty work,” but a purr lets me know they appreciate a job well done.
Client lesson: You can’t pick client projects based on the potential for awards, bonuses or other external validation. Client relationships sustain because you give all projects the same amount of enthusiasm without expecting anything in return.
5) Control Your Attitude
Public relations and volunteering at an animal shelter have this in common: sometimes the work is emotionally taxing. You can’t always control your work environment but you can choose how you react to it.
Cat lesson: It is impossible to save all the animals, and believing you can leads to compassion fatigue. Instead of thinking about what’s next for the cat, treasure the time you’re spending together.
Client lesson: When you’re striking out pitching journalists or second-guessing a PR strategy that didn’t go as planned, it’s easy to fall victim to negative thoughts and self-doubt. Focusing on what is going wrong makes it difficult to appreciate what went right with a PR campaign.
6) Failure Will Happen
I’ve been hissed at, scratched and bit – and, no, it wasn’t during a client budget discussion. Sometimes the best-laid campaign plans combined with your best PR efforts will still result in failure.
Cat lesson: It only took one escape (and the aforementioned results of my efforts to put the cat back) to realize that my approach with a nervous cat needed some work.
Client lesson: When you realize you’ve made a mistake, own up to it, fix it and move on. As Paul Maccabee advised in a recent MaccaPR blog post, “there’s no shame in making mistakes as long as you learn from them.”
7) Bring Your “A” Game Each Day
Be organized. Have a plan. Take charge when it’s needed. Never stop learning. Be kind. These five things alone won’t help you succeed, but they’re a good place to start.
And, when you’re trying to get on someone’s good side, remember: treats usually work – for humans and cats.
Andy Pollen is a former Maccabeast.
Topics: PR Perspectives