What’s a KYC Form? — Hey, I Have one of Those!

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By Scott Marioni, Vice President, R&J Public Relations

A few days ago, I was reading an article about the current state of global financial affairs.  In addition to painting a fairly bleak and depressing picture in general, the author of this article made several references to something called a KYC form without ever explaining what it was.  Annoyed that the writer simply assumed that his readers were familiar with these mysterious forms, and feeling a bit inadequate because I was apparently among the dullards who wasn’t, I went and looked it up.

As it turns out, KYC stands for Know Your Customer.  Financial institutions and other regulated companies are required to fill out KYC forms for all of their clients prior to conducting business with them under the Bank Security Act and the Patriot Act.  This is all apparently part of a comprehensive system of safeguards against identity theft, fraud, money laundering and the financing of terrorism.  Those are all pretty important things in the world of financial services.

Although I had never used the acronym, and I’m certain I’ve never spent any time directly combatting money laundering or the financing of terrorism, it occurred to me that I created my own version of a KYC form several years ago and have found it to be an invaluable tool in the work that I do for my clients as well.  My KYC form consists of 10 simple questions that I strive to answer in detail at the outset of every new client relationship.  In answering these questions, I invariably come to better understand my client, their needs and the environment in which they operate — all of which is essential to my ability to provide the kind of service that truly ‘moves the needle’ as we like to say around here.


This is the first of a two-part post in which I’ll share my 10 KYC form questions and offer a little insight into why I think each is important.  Questions 1 – 5 are as follows:

1.       What does the client do? A simple and seemingly unnecessary question, right?  If we’ve already got the business, we had better know what the client does.  That is true to a certain degree, but I have always found that by going through the process of answering this question in as much detail as possible, I gain a greater understanding of my client’s business and the manner in which I’m going to communicate what they do to their constituents.

2.       Who are the client’s competitors? Another simple, obvious and very important question.  In order to help a client achieve their objectives, you must first come to understand the things that will stand in your way as you attempt to do so.  You can’t possibly hope to understand how a client fits into the competitive landscape without first identifying who the players are.

3.       How is the client different from competitors? No matter who the client is, or what they’re hoping to accomplish, they WILL have competitors who are trying to accomplish the same thing.  One of the most important things that PR pros can do for our clients is to help their target audiences truly understand how they are different from (and hopefully better than) their competitors in the marketplace.  As such, an honest and thorough assessment of how the client stacks up against the competition is an absolute must at the outset of any new relationship.  The results of that assessment will be instrumental in shaping messaging, strategy and your entire approach to reaching and influencing your target constituents.

4.       What did the client hire us to do for them? Here’s another question that, at first blush, seems completely obvious and unnecessary.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  The answer to this question is different for every client and the answer is NEVER “public relations.” To the client, public relations is a means to an end and the end is the only thing they really care about.  So whether the answer to this question is ensuring the success of a major product launch, improving internal communications and employee morale, establishing C-level executives as thought leaders or helping them to successfully navigate a crisis with their reputation intact, it is CRITICAL to understand what constitutes a win in the mind of the client if you ever hope to achieve one.

5.       How are we going to accomplish our objectives? This is a multi-part question, the answers to which form the foundation of the actual PR plan.  Just as every client is different, so is every PR plan.  There are a multitude of tools and tactics to choose from when developing a plan of attack for a new client.  This is the point in the process at which the plan begins to really take shape in my mind.  In addressing this question, I seek to answer the following:


a.   What is our core message?
b.   Who do we need to reach and influence?
c.   How are we going to reach and influence those audiences?
d.   What are the elements of our PR program?


I hope you can begin to see how working through these questions can help a PR pro begin to really get to know a new client and their specific needs.  Developing that level of understanding is the single most important step in getting the relationship and the PR program off on the right foot.  Check back soon for part two of this post and the conclusion of my KYC form.

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