Repman readers have
patiently read my many missives about misbehaving clients. Since turnabout is
fair play, I've asked Syd Steinhardt, a former agency colleague and current
client-side type, to share his story of the agency from hell. Enjoy!
It is the scourge of every PR agency
pro: the client from hell.
This occupational hazard can be any
one of the following: the inexperienced manager whose insecurity compels him to
insert himself to such a degree that he impedes progress on the account; the
corporate bureaucrat who thinks that he knows everything, but really knows
nothing, about PR; or the onetime agency person who acts out his pent-up hostility
to former clients by abusing his outside PR firm.
Having been an agency guy myself for
12 years before going in house five years ago, I have seen them all. To help
manage such clients, I offer the following tips to make your life easier.
Communicate. Contact your client every day to let
him know that you are engaged with his account. It doesn’t have to be a long
conversation or an extended email exchange. If you don’t have a reason to call
or write – think of one! You’re supposed to be a bottomless well of creative
Be respectful. Don’t insult your client’s
intelligence by serving up a sloppy pastiche of half-baked notions and
incomprehensible jargon, and call it a PR plan. Style is important, too; a
mishmash of fonts indicates a cut-and-paste job, while spelling and grammatical
errors add to the insult.
Understand. If you don’t get your client, his needs, his
audience or his strategic objectives, keep talking to him until you do. Understanding
also means not padding your media list with journalists whom you know are not
appropriate. It is all right not to pitch the New York Times and Wall Street
Journal, for example, if your client’s story doesn’t fit. There are occasions where
a placement in a well-regarded trade publication would serve your client better.
By the way, clients can tell when a media list is nothing more than an unedited
Cision or Vocus search.
Listen. If your client requests something, do
it. If you think that the request is unreasonable, say so. Suggest
alternatives. Keep the dialogue going. The constant back and forth can yield goodwill
and good results. Ignoring your client creates frustration and resentment, and
can ultimately cost you the account.
Act professionally. You should be friendly with
your client, but not his friend. I’ve had account reps talk to me as if we were
at a frat house kegger. Don’t drop the f-bomb and all of its permutations with
impunity, thinking that such behavior is ingratiating. It is not. Nor is badmouthing
co-workers (yours and his), other clients, or members of the media.
Be transparent. Clients don’t like surprises,
such as unexplained expenses, sudden disappearances and replacements of account
team members, or evasive answers to simple questions about account activities.
Such surprises erode trust.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t
take your client for granted. If you work with him, you can learn from each
other. That is not only good business, but it is what a true partnership should
be. And a partner, by definition, is not a client from hell.
Steinhardt is public relations director of the NYU School of Continuing and
Professional Studies. A former Peppercommer, Syd stresses that none of the bad
examples depicted in this blog applies to Peppercom.