|Why So Angry, PR Peeps?
By: Mike Bush
Sometimes, PR people get a bad rap. Whether it’s a journalist having a crappy day and firing off a nasty gram, a client whose expectations fall outside of reality, or the faithful and steady stream of articles telling us why we suck at our job (here’s an example), PR people can take a lot of…well…flack.
As such, I asked around for PR people’s pet peeves and figured there was an opportunity for an Airing of Grievances.
I’m posting these without attribution, because some of the responses were from PR folks who were discussing their current clients and/or media relationships. Also…this story was originally intended to be one post…but apparently some of the PR folks I spoke to really, REALLY needed a venue in which to vent, so I’m making this a series.
Here’s Part 1: Things Clients Do to Tick Off Their PR People
- Clients who do not want to build the right steady foundation in getting media coverage and want everything unrealistically done overnight.
- Clients that do not tell me they are out of town or not available and then I get a media placement and cannot make the deadline.
- Clients who are on board and agree to the campaign we are working on and then want to add other stories and campaigns on top of what we are doing at the same time.
- Clients maintaining their end of the organization process is vitally important at large multinational trade-shows and events where both exhibitors and the covering media are often operating on back-to-back meeting schedules.
- A client standing up a reporter not only reflects badly on themselves, but also on their PR representatives that have invested time and effort in briefing the journalist on the appointment, and hampers our credibility when approaching that reporter in the future, including for separate clients.
- Maintaining open lines of communication both with the PR team scheduling the itinerary as well as those engagements which you may not be able to fulfill guarantees that you minimize any reputational damage caused by your non-attendance.
- When a client, especially a female client, says "I'll have my 'PR Gal' handle it." No one would ever say "PR Guy." I find the reference cringeworthy.
- When clients ask you to front money for travel or events out of your fee or simply out of pocket, saying "They need proof that you did the work." We are professional service providers, not banks. Vendors need payment on a schedule. If we are working to produce an event and traveling for you, that should be "proof."
- When clients do not pay their bills on time and expect you to keep working. And worse, threaten to fire you if you stop work. It has put many of my professional colleagues in a very bad situation.
- When clients think they know your job better than you and do not listen. And insist on doing things their way, which may not always work for the media. I usually say, "Just do it yourself."
- When corporate marketing "suits" insist that their excessively lengthy boiler plates be placed at the end of a simple 400–500 word press release.
- I would not be foolhardy enough to think that I could draft a contract that would hold up in court. Nor would I assume that I could stitch someone up who is bleeding. Yet, too many clients think that they are PR experts and either tell me what I should do, or go and do some hair-brained maneuver themselves. While cleaning up their messes ultimately makes for more billable hours, still I want to say to them, "I pinky-swear promise, I won't try to do your job. Stop trying to do mine."
- When you create a fabulous and wildly successful program and then the client decides to "go in another direction" with another agency. And they ask that agency to keep producing the program you created for them.
- Clients who are disrespectful of your time, ungrateful for your efforts, and constantly reminding you that you "are being evaluated." Or whine about the media coverage you deliver if it's not The New York Times or Wall Street Journal.
- Clients who attempt to poach your staff and/or freelancers to do other work for them without hiring your company. We have a "do not solicit" clause in our contracts but no one bothers to follow it.
- Clients who expect immediate results when they sign the contract or make a payment. No, your sales will not double overnight and your phone won't be ringing off the hook the following week. A well-developed PR plan will take some time to not only create buzz but to generate a ROI on your PR investment. Nothing bugs me more than a client who calls one week after an engagement expressing disappointment when they haven't given it a reasonable amount of time to work.
- Clients who are late to their own events. Nothing communicates to your donors, supporters, and media that you don't take your work seriously more than arriving late to your own event and making the media wait. Very disrespectful and unprofessional.
- Electing to be your own spokesperson without developing a key message or undergoing media coaching. Your 15 minutes of fame is important. Just be sure it doesn't go viral for the wrong reasons, such as mocking you or because you said something that causes more damage than good!
- Taking the time to craft a pitch and land an opportunity only to have the client tell you that they're too busy to respond. You either want press or you don't; reporters are busy and they have deadlines, so we need to be as accommodating as possible.
- Clients who don't follow your advice. I sometimes want to ask, "What did you hire me for if you're not going to do any of things I suggest?" I had a former client who kept disagreeing with most of my suggestions, and would always add, "But I defer to your experience," but then would never do the things I asked. What I was asking for was PR 101 — coming up with 10 guest blog ideas, answer interview questions, engage in social media, etc.
- One thing that people seeking media coverage should know is that even when you hire a PR company to open doors and find or create opportunities in the media, you are still adding work to your plate. So be ready. For example, that 5 a.m. interview may be inconvenient in the moment, but well worth it for years to come. You may need update up your website by adding a media page, making sure your products page is current, or updating your bio. If your headshot was taken more than three years ago, you'll need to place a call to your favorite photographer ASAP. Short, snappy sounds bites are your friend, so your PR team will work with you to create or hone those. If you are booked on television, you may have to purchase props and schlep them into the station for your appearance. This may not be glamorous, but it is necessary if you want to be the kind of entertaining guest who gets called back. You may need to contact a personal stylist to help you purchase a few new outfits so your image better matches your message. You will likely need to follow the guidance of your PR team who will help you to think differently about your service or product in order to offer a great story to reporters. There are many things that go into successfully building your brand with media coverage and your PR team can help you to accomplish this. Just be ready to put in sincere effort on your part and be open to thinking differently. A successful arrangement is one where both parties, the business seeking media coverage and the PR team, are equally excited and committed to making it happen. That's when the fun begins!
- Public Relations and Branding are luxury services that require an actual competitive budget. It is disheartening when someone wants to benefit from your expertise but will only pay “pennies on the dollar” for services that are worth 10 to 20 times the budget offer.
- No, I will not submit a 10-page proposal with all of the contact information for my media network and re-develop your website content before I have acquired your account. Please stop trying to benefit from free services. I am a highly trained PR professional with a graduate degree in this discipline. Do not look at me like you’ve “seen a ghost” when you realize that “picking my brain for ideas” comes with a consultant fee.
Mike Bush is a PR and Marketing freelancer with more than a dozen years of experience in the field. Find him on and connect Twitter @mikebush or at www.mikebush.nyc.
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