Uncompromising Standards: PR’s Catch-22

By Jon Kirk


The Catch-22 of PR: pander to fancies or demonstrate integrity?

What happens when the client, who is always right, is wrong? In the context of a PR campaign, this can, and invariably does, result in incorrect positioning, limited consumer engagement and zero media exposure. It is, then, the catch-22 of customer service in the communications industry: pander to a client’s fancies and retain the account at the expense of professional credibility, agency standards and coverage opportunity; or stand firm and argue the point to demonstrate integrity (thereby strengthening credibility with the media), at the risk of relationship meltdown.

In most cases, the dilemma can be avoided through patient discussion, face-to-face meetings and education. But a decision becomes necessary when the anticipated or projected success of a campaign is compromised. At this point, sitting on the fence is no longer an option and postponing the inevitable often does more harm than good.

I prefer to make the position clear at the outset: our allegiance is to our clients, and yet we side firmly with the media. In real terms, and by way of an explanation, this means we only produce copy if we know it stands a good chance of securing column inches – we won’t consider putting proverbial pen to paper otherwise. As an agency specialising in news copy and national news exposure, producing dull or ineffective copy (on the advice of a client, for example) would belittle our brand and significantly affect our credibility with the national print, broadcast and online media.

It’s not a great sales tool (telling prospective clients what they want to hear is, I’m sure, a more lucrative strategy), but it does build lasting relationships and creates a unique transparency of service. Pandering to a client’s fancies – or, at least, allowing them to impact upon a campaign – is a short-sighted approach, widely adopted and promoted by PR fluffies the world over. They forget that happy clients become unhappy ones very quickly when coverage grinds to a halt.

The conclusion? Tell it like it is, argue the point, and win the respect of your clients, your peers, and the media.

Until next time


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