How PR Agencies Should Manage Clients

November 28, 2007 Public Relations 12 comments

How to Clients Can Manage PR Agencies

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I got tipped off to write about this following Priscilla Tan’s expose on what goes on behind the doors of PR agencies and their clients. Many of the situations which she described – expecting page one news, wanting to be called “the next big thing”, and agency bosses “kow towing” to clients – are not unique indeed.

As a client and a PR practitioner myself, I would like to offer the following words of advice to PR agencies in order to better manage that “client from hell”:

1) Educate Thy Client

Yeah I know this has been said before, but I would like to re-emphasise the point that it is important to keep your client in the loop of the PR business. Share with them what happens in newsrooms, why journalists are always so stressed, and why it is a bad idea to have a product launch on a Sunday morning.

Tell them what the journalists mean by offstone, why you can’t send a press release to “Her World” and expect them to publish it next week, or why it is a cardinal sin to ring an editor 5 times a day.

2) Bridge The Gap

One reason why Public Relations has the word “relations” is because a large part of the job is about connecting with people. Help your clients to know the media better by encouraging them to speak to them and understand what they need. Direct from the horses’ mouth. They need to appreciate that the press are our friends – not foe.

3) Don’t Spread Urban Legends

Occasionally, I will come across PR agencies that purport to have the secret mystic key which unlocks the gate to eternal “front page” riches and “prime time” news coverage. Oh please!

Don’t give clients the mumbo jumbo about why a particular journalist slammed their product and service, citing excuses like its a bad hair day, he got hammered by his boss and so on. Or that a superstitious editor will only attend a lunch on a Tuesday. Which brings us to the next point…

4) Tell Them The Truth First…. Even if It Hurts

This is probably the most difficult to do in the hyper competitive PR arena. I feel that it is better to be candid, honest and upfront with a client before accepting a job about the story possibilities and how far it can go. The truth is that small businesses usually (not always) find it harder to get extensive coverage compared to corporate giants.

5) Share that a Publicity Stunt =/= a Sales & Marketing Stunt

The greatest folly in PR is to imagine that a roadshow in a crowded shopping centre with pretty models and irresistible freebies (holidays to Antartica, iPhones etc) will bring the news. Not.

Agencies should appraise their clients on what works and what doesn’t in attracting news coverage. So what if he or she engages an A-list “Ah Jie” to grace the occasion. Is there anything new or different that the press should sniff at?

6) Be Involved from the Onset Where Possible

Effective PR campaigns usually occur when both the marketing and PR folks plan and strategise how something should roll out. Where possible, try to wheedle your way into your client’s product or event launch strategy. Pipe in with your inputs and insist that you have a hand on how something new is going to be executed.

7) Keep Them In the Loop Early and Often

Finally, I strongly urge all PR agencies to keep their clients informed about the progress of their campaign wherever possible. Let them know what angles you are pitching to whom, what the likelihood of a big story is like, how the journalists are viewing it thus far, and what corrective actions are needed to save a campaign. Give them Work In Progress (WIP) updates, regular calls on what’s happening, and be proactive.

PS – My good pal Melvin has started blogging again! Check out his latest post on the value that PR brings.

PPS – Check out part 2, where I elaborate on How Clients Should Manage PR Agencies. Its all good stuff so don’t miss it!

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. Hmm I’m rather skeptical about sharing with the client so openly about how bad a campaign is going. Won’t the client then backfire, scold you for coming up with a failure campaign, for wasting their time and then ask for a discount? >_> <_ or even worse cancel the whole contract>

  2. su yuen,

    Well, I think that it is better to alert a client early if something seems amiss. This is all part of managing their expectations, which is a critical skill for survival. As a client, I don’t relish being kept in the dark until something big blows up in my face.

    If you are familiar with the principle of Kaizen, the same thing works here. In other words, rectify a problem as near to its source as possible and you can save yourself a lot of headache later on. If an agency professional can spot a looming problem early, he or she should voice out to the client and both parties should then work together towards a better outcome.

  3. Nice one, Walter! How about another post for clients on how to manage agency? Would love to hear that.

    Anyway, I love your pt number 5. I had a client who gave out lollipops to shoppers in malls and expect us to get coverage for that.

  4. Hi walter, very handy and practical advice. Cool blog btw.

    Pris, are those green lollipops by chance? I think I know who that client is LOL :Þ

  5. This is a very informative post thank you for sharing your experience with us. Public relations is about sending the right messages to the right place and the right people, creating a stronger brand reputation. PR agencies work alongside their clients to help them achieve this and promote them within their clients industries. PR is an area that can transform the future and profitability of a business.

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