By Adam Wakefield

When a client and PR work together, both parties want the relationship to be a success. However, even the best made plans can unravel. media update spoke to senior consultant at Meropa Communications, Bonnie Robinson and James Wilson, general manager at WE Worldwide South Africa to expand on how clients accidently inhibit a PRs work.

They listed seven different ways the unintentional happens.

PRs work hard to get clients media coverage, but delayed client content approvals can lead to missed opportunities

“Although clients are aware of a PR needing approval on a release, they do not diarise it and therefore forget about the approval deadlines,” Robinson explains.

“Even when PRs place these dates or times onto the client’s diary, they take for granted that their PR will act as their PA and chase them and remind them.”   

A solution Robinson offers is to develop and maintain status sheets with deadlines for clients, or even recording deterrence from agreed key objectives and messages, so the client can better understand the extent of the opportunities missed.

Bad briefs

“What you put in is what you get out. The quality of agency work is largely determined by the quality of client direction and content,” Wilson says.

“While a good consultant should be knowledgeable and well versed in their client’s business, and extrapolate the necessary information to ensure the best output, the client should still be the subject matter expert.”

Clients believe they understand their brand best from a reputational and brand equity standpoint, and, as a result, do not recognise the real value of their PR’s input

“Although a client’s knowledge of their brand is highly respected, the opinion of a hired PR should always be taken into consideration as their view is based on the best interests of brand reputation and brand equity,” Robinson explains.

“Often, the perspective of the client omits the reputation aspect. Theirs is more understandably focused on the business or sales objective. This is why the input from a hired PR is so important.”

One way to attend to this issue is to hold regular status meetings, to ensure the PR’s voice is being heard by the client.

Unrealistic expectations

“This is fairly common, but the good news is that it’s one of the easiest issues to manage. A typical example would include a client expecting 30 journalists at an event, when the event would only really be of interest to five media,” Wilson explains.

“In this case, it is essential that the consultant sets clear expectations up front and has the ability to guide and coach clients to a mutually agreed outcome.”

A recipe for disaster is a junior consultant agreeing to all demands, even though they cannot be realistically met, disappointing the client in the process.

“Here, the agency is as much at fault as the client for setting unrealistic expectations,” he says.

Lack of client contact leads to PRs wasting time writing content that is never approved, distributed, or leads to missed project deadlines

“If a hired PR has a big client and is not onsite, it is challenging to track down a client to obtain information, approval or answers to questions related to a PR plan or project,” Robinson says.

A solution to this problem is working from the client’s physical location up to twice a week or cataloguing the amount of hours lost due to work being done but not approved by the client due to poor communication.

Client expectation of PRs doing more than beyond agreed scope & clients abusing their relationship with the PR  

Due to hired PRs always being at their client’s disposal and ready to jump into action, they are often the first ‘go-to’ person when things need to get done quickly and accurately, Robinson explains.

“The client often forgets that there is an agreed scope in place and the retainer is directly linked to that scope. Any additional requests, hours etc. need to be billed on top of the retainer but when the hours are submitted, clients push back on signing off.”

Wilson suggests, at its worst, clients treat their PRs as those not on the same level as them, because there is a misconception that corporates are, in some way, better than agencies.

“This behaviour is easily identifiable and must be nipped in the bud immediately. The agency’s role here is to ensure that junior people aren’t placed on these types of accounts and that the account team, junior or senior, is sufficiently empowered and skilled to consult and respectfully disagree if required,” the local executive says.

Often, young PR professionals entering the game are eager to please and will do anything to please their clients.

According Wilson, this potentially exacerbates abusive client relationships. A good PR consultant can and does operate as a management consultant to their clients, and this is the North Star to which the industry should aspire.

“All the best relationships are based on an equal footing or partnership approach and a mutual respect for one another’s skills set,” the local executive says. 

Inexperienced client contact

“When a client doesn’t fully understand his or her remit, it can complicate the agency-client dynamic. This can have two outcomes,” Wilson says.

“The first is positive, in that the client and the agency can grow together – and a competent agency can share information with the client and ‘get them up to speed’.”

The second scenario is “trickier” and happens when the client understands they do not have the necessary skill set, and feels threatened by the agency, leading to potential conflict.

Ultimately, the best relationships are partnerships

In summing up what a good client-PR relationship is, Wilson defines it as a “two-way street”.

“Up front, it’s important to remember that every client and agency relationship is interchangeable and the challenges each party faces aren’t mutually exclusive. By this I mean: If the client is doing something ‘wrong’, chances are so is the agency.”

The best client-agency relationships are not an imbalance of the scales, where the agency is an execution arm to the client, instead of being a valued consultant.

Want to stay up to date with the latest public relations news? Subscribe to our newsletter.