Are You a PR Puppet or a PR Counselor?

I’ve heard the same story a million times from senior and mid-level PR pros.

I’ve also experienced it firsthand.

The client proposes an idea and asks for your advice, you give it, and they proceed to do the exact opposite of what you advised. Your team is then stuck with the unenviable task of executing the client’s plan that you are not in favor of.

What happens next? One of two things:

  • Your team does as well as can be expected, the results are OK at best, and you move on to the next project with a sigh of relief that the client didn’t fully blame you for the results.
  • Your team does as well as can be expected, the results are OK at best, and the client blames your team for not doing a better job.

Clearly, these are not situations anyone wants to be in where you are set up for failure. But too often this is happening between agencies and their clients. Makes me wonder why some agencies don’t just change their name to “We Do What We’re Told, Inc.” or “We Don’t Want To Do Amazing Work, Inc.”

So who’s to blame for going along with everything a client tells you to do? The team lead? Upper management? In some cases an agency has no choice but to do what the client asks because they need the business. That’s fine, but how long are you going to keep that business and how are you going to attract new business prospects when all you do is average work? I know I don’t want to work at an agency like that. Do you?

If our specialty really is communicating, then we need to start proving it a lot more. If you disagree with the direction of a client campaign or program plan, say something! Don’t just keep your mouth shut or only push back a little bit because you don’t want to upset the client and you want to keep being best friends with them. Being best friends with a client is not in our job description. We’re supposed to be their counselors who advise them on the best ways to move forward to meet their goals and objectives. 

It’s our job as PR pros to always challenge clients and bring different thoughts and perspectives to the table. If you sit around and agree with everything a client proposes (or don’t challenge their thinking at times), well, you are just going to end up being another PR pro who is OK collecting a paycheck and going along with the status quo. And ya know what? That’s OK.

But if you don’t want to be just another person on the team, I suggest you take a different approach. Offer different viewpoints, back-up your case with specific reasons and examples of why you feel the way you do, push the client to make this the best campaign it can be. Don’t go on and on if the client is just not getting it, but feel out the situation and do your best accordingly. And by doing this it doesn’t mean you are going to get your way or that every time you speak up you are on your way to being a good counselor. But at least you are showing the client that you have put a lot of thought into this and are there to provide as much advice as possible. Remember that more times than not it’s the agency that ends up being the scapegoat when a campaign goes sour. You don’t want to get caught at the end of a failed campaign knowing that you didn’t speak up when you had the opportunity.

Either way you slice it, none of these situations are easy to take on, but know that you should speak up when the time is right and that it’s OK to disagree with a client at times. I don’t have all of the answers, and I know that it’s easier said than done to push back on a client, but many of us need to be trying harder (myself included) to make sure that the campaigns we’re working on are positioned for success and we’re not just doing things for the sake of it.

With that in mind, I’d love to hear from agency folks who have been doing this throughout their career. Do you have any suggestions on how you can push back on a client in a professional way? Any examples of what’s worked/hasn’t worked in the past to get your client’s attention? How can you educate a client with a big ego to accept that their initial thoughts and ideas may not be the right way to go?

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Don’t Like Where You Work? Do Something About It!

Showing up to work unhappy each day is not a way to make a living.

No matter how much you are being paid, no one wants to walk into the office and prepare for a long day of doing something that you are not passionate about.

Sound like your situation? Well, then get out of your comfort zone and make a change.

We’ve all had jobs that we could not wait to leave. Just a few years ago, I used to work at a place that I just could not stand. I wasn’t passionate about the clients, the team chemistry within the agency was just not suited for me, and I’d leave to go to the restroom at least 12x a day just to clear my head (honestly, it wasn’t because I had a medical issue). So why did I go there? Money talks.

But what am I trying to get at? The moral of the story is don’t stay at a job that you hate. And instead of going to another agency or working in-house (good luck finding those opps..) for a company you are not interested in, go apply and make connections at places you DO want to work for. Shoot a note to an HR person at a specific company you are interested in, connect with someone on LinkedIn, or even follow a group like HAPPO to see what’s out there.

Jobs are never easy to come by, especially during today’s economic climate, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to go to a place you want to be at. Otherwise, if you continue exploring opportunities at companies where you are not passionate about the work, you are just going to end up back where you started … being a frustrated, miserable worker.

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Killing Someone’s Confidence Is Not How Leaders Are Made

Sometimes a manager, or even the client, needs to be sympathetic and act as a parental figure in certain situations.

Every once in a while mistakes happen. And when that occurs, it’s important to not only handle the situation delicately with the client, but also with the employee involved in the situation. 

In PR, it’s often said that you need to treat every client differently. They all have their own unique personalities, expectations, and so on.

But the same rings true for employees. Some are better at handling criticism. Others are not.

Whether you are the angry client or the disappointed account manager, there’s a right and a wrong way to deal with a situation.

Ask yourself these three questions before you react and decide the proper course of action:

1. Does the person who messed up have a history of this, or do they get 99 percent of their tasks right?

2. What was the reason for the mishap?

3. Was there a way I could have prevented this from happening?

Sure, some mistakes are more devastating than others, but before slapping that person on the wrist, treat the situation as if you are about to send out an important e-mail (perhaps the one you accidentally sent out in the first place!). In other words, think before you speak (or type). Make it a learning experience, not a trip to see the warden.

From the entry-level executive to the arrogant manager who walks around like they own the joint, everyone  screws up at one point or another. And when that happens, someone should be there to pick up their spirits, not kick them while they’re down.

Don’t Waste Your Time (and others) By Publishing Crap

In terms of article titles, this is about as risque as I get. Perhaps I was inspired by a few of Danny Brown’s recent titles (especially since his blog, which is awesome, gets more traffic than mine!) or maybe I’m just using today’s as an experiment since it’s a bit out of character for me, but no other title I considered using for this post seemed to get to the point as appropriately as this one does.

We’ve all heard the expression “think before you speak” and I think the same can be said for posting content on a blog/YouTube channel/Facebook page/wherever. Whether for yourself or for a client, too often we move quickly to publish something because its been so many days since we last said anything. So what happens? You rush through the production and the content ends up taking a backseat. The result is something that provides nothing of value to the community simply because you wanted to get the job done and failed to consider whether or not what you had to say was actually going to help anyone.

How many of you have been in this position or have done this before? I know I have, and it’s wrong. For example, I try to stay on a schedule and post informative content at least two times a week on this blog. But there have been times that I’ve been up late at night struggling to try and decide what to post on this blog for the coming day, and often I get blogger’s block (the equivalent of writer’s block) and wonder what I’m going to do. Unfortunately, this had led to a few instances where I ended up posting something just for the sake of it and the result was a subpar article.

I’ve come to accept the fact that I’ve probably made some poor decisions at times and ended up posting content that probably didn’t help many people, but no longer will I make that mistake. I will especially take the lessons I’ve learned to help counsel clients and continue to stress to them that they “think before they publish” and not post anything that they aren’t 100 percent behind and proud of.

So the moral of the story is to slow down. Don’t get caught up in schedules and deadlines. Instead, wait until the time strikes, and it will, when you have an idea for a post that will benefit others. If you spend most of your time and energy worrying about frequency and getting the work over with instead of concentrating on the actual importance of the material being published, then not only are you wasting your time and that of your audience, but you are hurting yourself in the process because people will slowly stop listening to what you have to say.

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I Am A Fan Of PR Debates

For one reason or another I’ve been involved in several debates this week.

Whether it was about media pitching or the importance of titles, there was plenty of opportunity to turn these healthy discussions into heated ones, and perhaps they even appeared that way.

But honestly, this post isn’t about debate topics and who won or who lost. It’s about how much there is to gain from hearing the different views of people.

The way I look at it, these types of conversations create an awesome environment where all sides have the chance to learn something new and get a fresh perspective on the topic being discussed. Remember, people are not always going to agree with you or take your side on an issue. In fact, once in a while someone is going to come along and prove you wrong about a point you made or make a compelling argument against your original statement. You might even get mad. That’s OK. Did you learn something? Then you’ve won!

At the end of the day, no matter what topic you are debating nothing is better than speaking with another person who is just as passionate as you are about a particular issue. You almost always learn something from the experience, and I certainly learned a few things this week.

So the next time you are involved in a debate over a PR issue or any issue for that matter, remember that it’s not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about the education that you got from it that will make you a better, more knowledgeable person in the long run.