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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PR and Social Media Bloggers Are Educators, Not Magicians

Whether it’s myself offering motivational job advice to PR pros and students, words of encouragement being delivered from Danny Brown, or insights from Jay Baer on using Facebook for Business, bloggers have a way of making things sound so easy to do. But at the risk of sounding like a downer, this post is to remind people that this could not be further from the truth.

Nothing we do at our jobs – whether it be in PR, social media, or marketing – ever comes easy. Neither myself, nor the aforementioned bloggers, will ever tell you that we have  the magic formula to success and that we know how to solve all of your problems.

However, what we do provide is a massive amount of information that we’ve come across firsthand from our own PR and social media experiences, and then pass along our knowledge to you, the readers. 

Sure, we bloggers all want more website traffic, hundreds of retweets and ‘likes’, and to be mentioned in industry publications. But the no. 1 goal for all of us (or atleast should be) is to offer guidance and counsel for your careers and hope that our posts help set you on the right path to success. Just know that the path can be a long, difficult one.

Just like we don’t guarantee results for clients, we don’t promise that everything we post is going to help everyone (though we keep our fingers crossed!) immediately.

So the next time you read a helpful, interesting post, yes, share it with everyone you know. Embrace the key learnings from it. But don’t think that implementing our ideas and becoming the star of your agency or company is something that happens overnight.

This is a challenging industry, we are all learning something from everyone thanks to all of the great bloggers out there, and being successful is something that takes a long time to accomplish.

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Five Social Media Lessons From Larry David

Social media role model?

The other day, I was sitting at home watching TV and saw a new commercial promoting the upcoming season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

For anyone that has or hasn’t watched (It’s one of my favorites and should be watched by anyone who was a fan of Seinfeld), you should know that Larry David, who plays himself on the show, has several defining characteristics. Within his traits, there are several lessons we can take away and apply them to how we counsel our clients on their social media efforts.

1. Larry often says the things that many people think, but don’t actually say in public. This may work for Larry, but if your client has a brand page on Facebook or a group on LinkedIn, there are ways of getting their message across without coming off as an ass.

2. Larry can be brutally honest. Now, you don’t want to come off being disrespectful to your fans/followers, but you should answer all of their questions in an honest, polite way.

3. Larry is pretty, pretty, pretty content with himself. This is the exact opposite of what you, or your client, want to be. It’s great if you have tons of brand ambassadors and everyone loves your client because they give away free pocket protectors for every 100 ‘likes’ on Facebook, but that can change in an instant. Always think of ways to go the extra mile and stay hungry.

4. Larry always finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Make sure to do the proper research and monitor various social media channels before counseling your clients on where to jump in. In other words, don’t advise your client to create a Twitter handle just for the sake of creating one. Create one because their audience is there and it makes sense.

5. Larry is very passionate. During the most recent season of Curb, Larry tries everything to win back the love of his life, Cheryl, and he ultimately accomplishes his objective. This same passion should be applied to your clients social media channels. If you don’t enjoy the work that you are doing, then you are probably not the right person to be managing the online presence for your particular client(s). 

If you are a fan of the show, what else would you add to this list?

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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.