Dealing with Clients Who Swear They Are Public Relations Savvy and How To Not Flip A Table
"When I tell you to do something, I mean that sh*t" - Killmonger
Okay, not exactly Killmonger but sometimes clients will have you ready to burn everything down in a manic rage.
One of the biggest issues I had when I was consulting was argumentative clients who felt the need question your ever move...
One of the great tasks of doing PR is being told by clients that you have absolutely no idea what you are doing despite the years of experience you have that would suggest otherwise. Oh, let’s also ignore that degree in Public Relations and/or Media Communications that cost you an entire year’s salary. I mean come on, what could be more exhilarating then your client suggesting stories, publicity stunts or announcements? Wouldn’t it be fantastic? It’s every PR agents dream, but there is a problem. Your client is not a public relations professional or a media brand specialist.
We know, two heads are better than one and when it comes to building awareness and curating ideas for a business or brand inspiration is unlimited. Having the ability to lead effectively requires a large amount of communication and listening to everyone involved, however; at some point the, we’ve all had to remind a client that not all requests will, can or should be granted and that posting a picture of their grandmother doing the “nae nae” is not necessarily the way to go.
So, how do you employ diplomacy without completely ruining the creative fun of your client? Here are some tips to saving your client-PR relationship:
1. Said client(s) are overly ecstatic about something or other they’ve been working on and think it’s a great idea to let the public know what it is they’ve been conjuring up in their basement.
Normally, this would be a good idea. Productive and active clients are the best to have and make your job a hellava lot easier.
The problem comes when a client fails to understanding the difference between news worthy information and “why was this ever published?” news. In an instance such as this, the best approach would be to divert the clients’ attention elsewhere rather than shutting it down completely. Suggest your client to publish a personal blog post or small social media status update. Come up with a content strategy that would highlight what this could mean for the business or how it will assist in the effectiveness of the product.
2. You are asked to assist or perform tasks that are out of your job title, brand target…or out of their budget.
This happens all the time especially when working with long term clients. Clients often get comfortable and forget that you were hired to assist in one aspect of development or that your initial quote or retainer only covered work done for a particular project. Veering off into the abyss is okay once in a while, but when you are on a deadline or dealing with multiple clients at one time, there is really no time or room to maneuver.
In instances such as these, the best approach would be to first address your concern with your client directly, if at all possible, to it before you become frustrated. It’s much easier for your client to understand where you are coming from when you aren’t foaming at the mouth and downing 3 cups of Starbucks coffee to keep up. Explain to your client that while you would love to help you don’t have the arms to take on multiple tasks at once and that it is better to complete one step first, before moving on to the next. If it is a budgeting issue, it’s simple. Let your client know upfront that their budget simply does not allow for any extras at the moment and that any work done in addition to what was originally agreed upon will require an additional retainer.
3. Your client insists on the planning and execution of an event for the sole purpose of securing ‘free media press”.
Do you want to really get under the skin of a PR professional? Say “free press”. There is nothing more frustrating than having to explain to a client repeatedly that in the world of media, there is no such thing as free press or free advertising.
This is largely in part to pseudo-PR professionals confusing event planning and promotions with actual public relations work. PR agents and professionals are not promoters. We are not here to wave and twirl a big ol’ sign on the corner telling to people to stop by today. Our jobs do not consist of posting ads randomly across social media platforms and a lot of times, because clients do not understand this concept they end up spending thousands of dollars putting together events and attempting to come up with the next big social media craze when really all that is needed is a little bit of strategic planning and pitching.
Explain to your client that while their idea to go jump in that big lake in the backwoods while it’s zero below outside sounds like a brilliant idea, it is definitely not necessary. Put together a strategic and tactful media strategy and sell the hell out it.
4. That overbearing micro-managing client that needs to have control over everything, including media handling.
There’s always that client that despite having failed at every attempt to handle the media on their own yet still feels the need to tell you how to handle the media on their behalf. This client feels the need to critique how story is laid out, presented to the public or even attempts to tell you would you should have said or done. Yes, a big ol’ pain in the tush.
Situations like this require a little more of a firm approach because at the end of this, this is a big part of your job and what you were hired for. I mean, if your client knew what the hell they were doing, they wouldn’t have hired you in the first place, right? Assuming you’ve already slipped a chill pill in your clients coffee, and assuming that didn’t work the next step require you reminding your client of the roles each of you play in this partnership.
5. Your client jumps completely out the window and decides to tackle the media on their own, without informing you.
It is absolutely mortifying to learn that your client decided to address the media after it’s too late. There is nothing worse than reading or watching your client curse out an entire press room full of reporters or make an inappropriate joke or comment that will be the talk of the media for the next 3 weeks. Sometimes you get lucky and your client does a good job, but most often your client will need all of the gladiators to fix the mess they’ve made.
At this point, there is nothing you can do about it. The damage is done and now you have to activate operation Oops, I Did It Againbut not before having a talk with your client. Let your client know that they should always speak with you first before agreeing to or commenting with the media. This gives you the opportunity to vet the source, make sure that this aligns with their brand and that it goes smoothly.
This gives your client the chance to see you in your supportive role versus your management role and, hopefully, opens the door for them to feel comfortable coming to you in the future.