Events 101: How to Manage Clients in Stressful Situations

— Ellie Rider 

I’ve been lucky to work with clients who’ve blown me away with how resilient, smart and creative they are. Who’ve made it easy to forget that despite their seniority or success, still succumb to the odd stress and strain.

Events are the perfect example. They can make the most organised and confident of people panic. Why? Because events are high pressure environments – almost three quarters of events professionals believe their colleagues are suffering from stress. This is because they often involve senior team members, the presence of some top tier customers and in a lot of cases, the media. And if you’re a PR, you know that the combination of these people can be terrifying if mismanaged. 

That’s why it’s critical to provide reassurance, direction and a much needed smile when things don’t go to plan. That brings me to my first of three top tips for how to manage clients in stressful situations

Do your homework

If you go into an event thinking it’ll all be alright on the night, you’d have to be pretty lucky not to run into any bumps on the road. But, if you’ve done your homework you can prove to clients they’re in safe hands. This can manifest itself in many ways. For me, it’s having three more briefing books in my bag than I actually need, but it could be anything from researching company attendees beforehand so you can build a rapport with them quickly or simply knowing what your exec’s last tweet was. All of this intel helps you pre-empt or future-proof a relationship if things do take a turn for the worst. You’ll be surprised just how much knowing someone’s recent three LinkedIn posts will help enable engaging conversation.

Work the room

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” A well-known phrase that can be applied to client events. Why? Because at events you typically get a client’s key stakeholders all in one room at the same time and having access to senior executives, customers and even sales staff can open a number of doors. If they can see you in action, understand the value you bring and get to know you, the chances are this will help elevate your client’s status and support investment in the initiatives they’re driving. It can also help you forge new relationships, gain leads for new projects, and (in the longer-term) secure new revenue streams. Overall, it simply helps your client to sell the value of the work they’re doing with you and trust that you can represent them if they’re not always around to play host.

Set expectations

One thing to bear in mind is if they’re not around, you’re in the driving seat and you need to be able to have tough conversations. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last, to find myself in a situation working with people who have little to no understanding of what PR is. Remember to set clear expectations and explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Just because your client’s product marketing manager believes in a product and has seen it through the entire lifecycle, doesn’t mean that a journalist will care. It’s down to you to make these distinctions and help clients, and their colleagues, understand what to expect. They need to be confident you’re the right partner to provide the guidance they need to meet their objectives – sometimes that means being clear on what you can and cannot deliver.

Events will also come with an added layer of stress because there are so many variables in someone else’s hands. Don’t let that stop you keeping your cool and taking control of the PR effort. Be prepared, get to know people and make sure that you’re always giving clear feedback and guidance – the rest is left to the gods!