Being hired to handle an organization’s public relations is like getting married. PR pros often court a client for some time before landing the deal. But once the client “puts a ring on it,” some PR pros find the honeymoon can be short lived.
Just about every one of my public relations colleagues has a horror story (or two) they can tell about “the client from hell.” It’s difficult to turn down business, but sometimes it can be the best decision you ever make. I have done it and I am pretty sure I sleep better at night because I have.
Rather than rush to the alter, it’s best to take steps to spot what could become a troublesome client ahead of time and take steps to mitigate any potential problems that might pop up.
Get to know the early warning signs.
Ask the potential client ahead of time about their expectations. Are they realistic? Do they expect you to be at their beck and call 24/7? Do they expect to have their story told on CNN in the first few weeks of your engagement? Also, it’s best to make it clear upfront what they should expect from your efforts. Never over promise.
Ask them about any prior experience they have had with other public relations experts. If they have worked with another PR pro, find out why that relationship ended. There are two sides to every story, but it’s often possible to figure out what went wrong and why.
Learn about their management style. Are they going to be the kind of client that micromanages everything or will they trust you to be the expert? On the flip side, some clients think they can hire you and walk away. Make it clear their involvement is the key to success while at the same time make sure they are confident in your abilities.
Try to ascertain if they are the kind of client who expects you to meet their deadlines, but then drags their feet when it comes to getting things approved? This might be as simple as your sending a contract over to the prospect only to have them put you off week after week or month after month. It’s incumbent upon you to ensure they know that in PR timing is everything.
Do they seem to be disorganized and unable to provide you with a point person who will work with you? It’s important that you have at least one, or better yet two people, who can be available for questions, interviews, press release approvals, etc.
Are they willing to share information about their organization with you, or do they seem to have a hidden agenda? This is a huge red flag and will only serve to make your job difficult, if not impossible. Plus, it could put your own reputation at risk.
Are they able to pay, or do they want to work out some kind of a deal? I had a potential client call me and say they didn’t have a PR budget, but I could make a commission on sales. If I wanted to work on commission I would go into sales.
On another occasion I was hired by a client who had an on-going and long-standing business. I received a signed contract, received what I thought was my first month retainer check, but when I went to deposit it, it bounced. I promptly called the client to find out what happened, he never called back. End of client. I later found out that the client, while appearing financially sound, was not.
Public relations clients are no different than clients who hire lawyers, Realtors, accountants or anyone in a professional service field. It’s never easy turning down business, but learning more about the client before you have made the commitment can save you a lot of grief in the future.
Susan R. Miller is founder of Garton-Miller Media, a full-service, South Florida based public relations firm. Susan is a former journalist with more than 30 years of experience. She has two daughters, three golden retrievers and two cats, but just one guinea pig who is happy not to have to share his cage or his daily stash of veggies with anyone.
Garton-Miller Media is a full-service, South Florida-based public relations firm. Founder Susan R. Miller has 30 years of experience as a writer, journalist and PR professional.