What to do with difficult PR clients

May 7, 2021 | B2B PR Blog, Opinion, Our PR approach

Client relationships, like any type of business or personal relationships, require nurturing, regular communication, time and effort. Every relationship will have the occasional bump in the road, but most issues can be ironed out with a phone call or a friendly (virtual) coffee/beer.

Yet, despite you and your team investing similar amounts of effort across all your accounts, you may find the odd client being persistently difficult, causing stress and demanding significant amounts of time to keep the relationship afloat.

What are the root causes for this issue and how do you best address them? Let’s look at some of the most common examples.

Avoid the original sin

Some client relationships suffer from the ‘original sin’ syndrome. I know you know about it. You take your CEO to the pitch, they promise the client the front page of the FT, and then you and the team need to deliver. Or rather, you are destined to under-deliver and disappoint.

This may be a rather extreme case, but shiny slide decks, spectacular presentations, account teams that clients will never see again etc. often portray an image that isn’t rooted in reality or presents a campaign which can’t be delivered with certainty.

Make sure your PR campaign pitch is polished and convincing, but don’t promise something you can’t guarantee to deliver, and do make sure the client buys into the people that will become their main point of contact. It will make everyone’s lives so much easier in the long term.

avoid the original sin of over promising to your pr clients

avoid the original sin of over promising to your pr clientsAvoid the original sin

Some client relationships suffer from the ‘original sin’ syndrome. I know you know about it. You take your CEO to the pitch, they promise the client the front page of the FT, and then you and the team need to deliver. Or rather, you are destined to under-deliver and disappoint.

This may be a rather extreme case, but shiny slide decks, spectacular presentations, account teams that clients will never see again etc. often portray an image that isn’t rooted in reality or presents a campaign which can’t be delivered with certainty.

Make sure your PR campaign pitch is polished and convincing, but don’t promise something you can’t guarantee to deliver, and do make sure the client buys into the people that will become their main point of contact. It will make everyone’s lives so much easier in the long term.

T

READ: 8 things to consider when choosing a PR Agency

Manage expectations

In my experience, the majority of difficult situations stem from poor expectation management. A client may send across a request that isn’t clear, doesn’t specify a deadline, or is outside the current scope of work. If the account lead doesn’t ask for further clarification or fails to manage expectations, a simple request can develop into a major issue that undermines trust and causes tension.

Some difficult clients will tend to test the boundaries often and see how far they can push the account teams. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the onus is on PR agency leads and managers to immediately clarify any vague requests, request missing information, agree on deadlines, and flag any activities that need to be costed out separately.

why clients are difficult

Get under their skin

Let’s be fair, difficult clients aren’t difficult because they want to make your life miserable, but because they want their business to do well and achieve their objectives. As PR practitioners, we’re often guilty of not asking that simple yet very important question: “What does success look like?

The definition of PR success may mean very different things to different clients. Some just want new and fresh ideas, others are looking for a select number of articles in tier one publications. Some are looking for PR with a direct impact on sales. And yes, there are clients, who just want a friend! While we can’t be everything to all people, it’s important to listen and understand what good looks like from their perspective, and adjust our approach accordingly. By doing this, we’ll avoid many frustrating meetings or passive-aggressive emails.

Make them look good

If you feel that you’re being put under a lot of pressure despite delivering great results, or that your client just isn’t being ‘fair’, chances are rather high that this isn’t about you at all, but about your client being caught up in a difficult situation internally.

Take time to understand the internal dynamics of their business, the organisational structure and decision-making processes. Such insights will enable you to help your client navigate their internal corridors and strengthen their personal reputation. They will be forever grateful.

make your PR clients look good

Sack them

Sometimes (and very rarely) things may get out of hand, with clients causing persistent and unnecessary stress, acting like bullies and even causing your colleagues to resign. No client is worth risking the stability and cohesion of your team. Apart from the emotional cost, such clients also have a negative impact on efficiency and profitability that can damage the business.

I tend to agree with Chris Merrington that occasionally, it may be necessary to fire a client that’s not a good fit and is preventing you from growing as a business. In such a highly competitive industry, this may feel like an unnatural move, but it may open up capacity for developing a more profitable client relationship that’s built on solid foundations of trust and mutual respect.

when it's time to sack the PR client

At ec-pr we are passionate about b2b communication. We believe your work is amazing and we want to help you tell the world how extraordinary it is. Get in touch.

Join our #B2BPR tribe:

If you’ve found this article valuable, you can get more useful insight here:

Download Your Definitive Media Lens Guide to achieve your maximum sphere of influence

READ Should you choose a Specialist PR Agency? Find out here

look Check out the B2B Tech PR Sectors we operate in

to receive regular insights on how to make your PR work harder.

The Definitive Media Lens Guide 2021 pdf

Your definitive media lens guide

This PR guide provides a framework for B2B businesses to identify their sphere of maximum potential influence.

Download

Subscribe to our updates

Stay up to date with the latest insights, case studies, and PR guides.

EC-PR How We Guarantee Your PR Results Brochure Cover

How we guarantee your PR results

Turbo boost your PR today and expand your ability to reach business goals.

Download

Sign up for B2B PR Insights & Tools

What will I receive? We'll send you regular B2B PR insights, case studies, tools and guides
Follow us and share this:
Share