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The clients PR companies need to avoid

Here at More Fire PR Ltd we’re lucky enough to work with the best group of clients you could wish for, but this hasn’t happened by accident.

Successful relationships are a two-way process, and rather than accept any and every organisation that wants to make use of our services, we carefully discuss clients’ objectives to ensure that expectations are met.

Long experience has also taught us that there are a particular group of individuals who we will not work with. Here follow the top five PR clients to avoid, and the reasons why:

1. Propagandists - Anyone who treats PR as a propaganda tool and wants nothing more than to lie, confuse and falsify claims to their audiences. Why? Because ethics matter in this business. My favourite definition of PR is ‘The process of telling the truth persuasively.’ The truth will always out and if you exaggerate or outright lie, particularly to journalists, then your reputation and relationships will quickly become worthless.

2. Confused marketers – those who are convinced you can simply buy quality editorial space with media and don’t understand why or how newsworthiness matters. Why? Life’s too short. I’m happy to work with and help educate clients, but it’s those who absolutely deny that a story needs to earn space on editorial merit that frustrate.

3. Narcissists – the ones who want the story to be all about them, even when it’s not. Why? It’s vital to put target audiences’ needs, wants and desires first if PR activity is going to have any desired impact.

4. Non or late-payers – The loud but intensively damaging client who demands everything urgently, but when it’s all over suddenly feels that maybe it was fairly easy to achieve, and the pre-agreed bill is a bit steep in hindsight. Or perhaps they’ll get round to paying when they feel like it. Why? Because we work so damn hard to make it look easy! I’m fortunate to only have ever fallen for one such scenario, but it was an important learning curve. Perhaps unsurprisingly nearly every independent PR I know has a story like this.

5. The news-less – These can be categorised as those who desperately want to raise their profile, but when it comes down to the wire are unwilling to engage in helping generate ideas, trying something new, speaking to media, training for press interviews, leaving journalists hanging, or thinking it’s everyone else’s job to do this. Why? Because you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. PR is a two-way street when it comes to generating ideas and putting the effort in. I’d much rather work with energetic, go get ‘em personalities – it makes the day much more interesting.

Vetting potential clients benefits everyone

It’s important to have an opening conversation with clients about their audiences, objectives, past experiences and successes and failures, as well as establishing how contact with their organisation will be managed going forward.

This gives a clear picture of what can be done to achieve their goals. Don’t be afraid to discuss budgets and billing up-front, and then agree plans in writing. This way everyone is happy and understands the process. If you sense something is wrong at this stage, politely make you excuses and move on.

When should you walk away from a PR client?

I always recommend a frank and open conversation at the earliest stages. If at any time you sense that the relationship is turning sour – organise a call or visit to discuss matters face-to-face (email isn’t an ideal tool for this kind of nuanced conversation).

Sometimes clearing the air is a great way to reinvigorate a partnership. If this isn’t the case, or alternatively a client is blatantly ignoring your advice, then politely but assertively make for the exit.

Worst-case scenario – you learn a client is acting unethically or illegally? Get out! Remember, it’s your reputation that’s on the line here too.

Mark Ferguson, Director of More Fire PR Ltd


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