By Gini Dietrich
On Saturday, I had the great honor to give the commencement address at Tribeca Flashpoint College here in Chicago.
A digital media arts school, the message of the day was content, content, and more content.
But it wasn’t the school or the education or what these kids have learned to prepare them for the real world that was so impressive (although, if you have a chance to hire a graduate from this school, I’d highly recommend it).
What was impressive was the relationship the faculty have with each individual student.
Sure, the graduating class was smaller than some high schools (just 125), but it’s still easy to get lost in a sea of students and not get individualized attention.
This is not the case at Flashpoint and here is why I know that, without a shadow of a doubt:
- Peter Hawley, the executive vice president and academic dean, shook every graduate’s hand and called them by their first name. But not only that, with the students he personally taught, he whispered something private to each one of them as he shook their hands.
- Yuri Lysoivanov, the department chair for recording arts, had a special handshake for every student. He did everything from fist bumps and choreographed handshakes to hugs and jumping seven feet in the air for a high five.
- Bill Van Huis, who has been president and CEO for only a few months, had an incredible message about patience and experience and working yourself up the ladder without entitlement or expectation. Just work hard and play hard (and he said there is a reason they’re listed in that order).
And the faculty, who sat in the front row, teared up as the ceremony came to an end.
It’s clear the culture of the school is deep and students come first.
Treat Your Clients Like Special Snowflakes
As I sat on stage and watched this all unfold, I couldn’t help tearing up myself, and it got me thinking about what we can take from this and apply to business.
- Every client is unique. “Client” can apply internally or externally, but when you’re in PR, we all have clients. And, though they may have similarities, each is a special snowflake. If you treat them as such, they’ll never be unhappy.
- Every client should think they’re the only one. I had a boss who used to say every client should feel like they are the only one you have. You never talk about other clients with the others and you never miss a call or meeting in favor of another client. It’s kind of like having a favorite child—you just don’t do it. Plus, have you ever had someone tell you they can’t make a meeting time because they have one with another client? It doesn’t feel good. You can say you’re not available at that time. Don’t say it’s because you’re meeting with another client.
- Every client deserves individualized attention. This goes from knowing personal things about them to testing tactics that might work for only them and no one else. We have a client who I once witnessed combing the carpet on the stairs in their lobby so the fibers all faced the same way. Talk about perfectionist OCD. I stored that experience away for later and this year, when he turned 50, we sent him a singing telegram. But not just any singing telegram. The chicken threw confetti and made him do the chicken dance in front of all of his team members. I knew the confetti would make him crazy (he’s probably still finding it in crooks and crannies) so it was very important to me that it happen. Though he was embarrassed and “mad” at us, he’s still talking about it.
- Every client should have a special handshake. I don’t mean literally, of course, but there are lots and lots and lots of PR professionals who have cookie cutter plans and do the same tactics over and over again. Every client should get something that is customized to them. Sure, there are lots of things that can be repeated because they work, but there also are lots of things that can—and should—be individualized.
- Work hard and play hard with clients. I consider our clients friends. Even many of our former clients have remained close friends. That’s because we work really hard to get to know the human beings, both personally and professionally. When you work with these people every, single day—even though you’re not in the same office or even in the same geography—it’s important to work hard for and with them, but also play hard. Just like the singing telegram example above, there are lots of things you can do to play hard, even when you’re thousands of miles apart.
The point really is to make clients feel like they are the most important people in your business lives.
I’m 100 percent certain every Flashpoint graduate not only feels pretty darn important, but that they got an incredible education with incredible experience from incredibly talented people.
I’m also willing to bet their parents feel really good about the money they spent on that education.
Make your clients feel really good about the money they spend with you. Make them feel important. And then come back here and tell me what else we can add to my list.
P.S. Don’t worry! I’ll post my commencement speech script and the video later this week!
image credit: shutterstock