Memo to Self: Tactfully remind clients why they’re hiring you…then run the other way when they say certain things.
Nothing kills a deal with a potential client faster than their saying to me, “I have a relative [or friend] in PR.” The question in the back of my head is then, “Why don’t you hire that person?”
Maybe the relative doesn’t handle the client's industry, the relative’s cost is too high or the relative doesn’t want to mix business and pleasure. (The latter should be a warning that this client is going to be difficult. So ask the question gingerly, but definitely ask it.) But more often than not, I find that when I work with clients who say this (before or after my being hired), they truly are a pain in the butt and think they know more than you do. So what you originally thought would been a great working relationship now becomes a nightmare.
Clients hire you for your expertise; therefore, they should listen to what you have to say. Chances are, by the time they’re speaking with you, clients who say the above statement have already “consulted” with their relative/friend about how a PR campaign should work and what results they should receive. So then why do they need you? For your press contacts? Because you write better than they do? OK, “the customer is always right.” But if they’ve consulted their relative/friend, then that person has already provided an opinion on PR, which may not match yours – and ultimately, it may be difficult to convince your client otherwise.
I’ll give you two examples from my experience. (Names have been changed.) About 10 minutes into a conversation with John, a potential client, he said to me, “Oh, I already spoke with my wife. She’s in PR and thinks….” Frankly, I really didn’t care what he had to say after that, although I did listen intently in case I might have a different opinion. So, again, my question was “Ok, John, since you’ve already obtained an opinion and it came from your wife, why isn’t she helping you out with this?” His response was that he doesn’t like to mix business and pleasure…exactly what I thought. The conversation continues, and John is telling me all these things that his wife had to say. I finally told John I’d have to think about how I could be of help. Thirty minutes later, I called John back to let him know that I didn’t think I could assist him with his project. I neglected to tell him that I didn’t want his wife hanging over my shoulder (via him) or criticizing everything I said or advised. The situation just wasn’t worth it to me, and I could already tell that John wasn’t open to listening to anything I had to recommend.
The second example occurred a few months ago when a technology client who had already hired me said that he wasn’t hopeful for a story in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Yet, when I got the tech reporter for one of these publications on the phone, the reporter, who was mildly interested, asked me to have my client, Joe, answer a few questions to see if his answers might lead the reporter to a greater interest level. So I emailed Joe the questions, and told him to get back to me ASAP, as this could potentially be a huge story in a major publication. Joe was so excited, and I was happy for him, until a week went by and he didn’t answer the questions. I called and emailed him to ask what was going on. He said he had forgotten and would make it a priority to answer the questions that night. Another week went by. After finally getting Joe on the phone, I asked what his reluctance was about answering the questions. His response: “Well, it doesn’t really seem like this reporter is interested or cares what I have to say.” In fact, it was the opposite, since the reporter asked questions that needed to be answered. I told Joe this, and further explained that since he didn’t answer this reporter’s inquiry in a timely fashion, the reporter would not likely want to speak with him in the future. Joe said to me, “I have a friend at a major PR agency who can get me press anytime,” believing that his friend could get the reporter to speak with Joe in a few months and prove me wrong. I fired Joe as my client and wished him luck. Again, the hassle of dealing with an irrational client who was throwing his PR friend in my face and also not listening to my advice was not appealing to me.
The bottom line here is: listen to your gut when a client says something that rubs you the wrong way. Chances are, your gut is right. You’ll be happy that the client went with someone else (who may or may not be able to deal with them, although that’s not your concern), and you’ll thank yourself later on.