Six Ways Clients Drive PR Firms Crazy


During my career I’ve been a journalist, a corporate communications manager and a public relations agency manager. These different vantage points have given me some insight about how PR agencies annoy their clients and clients annoy their agencies.  In the communications industry, there’s plenty of advice around about how public relations consultants should behave in order to stay in clients’ good graces.  But I doubt that clients receive as much input about how they should behave when working with their agencies. 

Perhaps you’re thinking that the client is paying the bill, and therefore can set the guidelines and tone for working with an agency.  However, paying for a professional service doesn’t automatically make people aware of the best way to relate with the professionals providing the service. The relationship between the agency and client is vital for optimal performance of both, and the optimal performance of the agency provides the best ROI for the client.

So, here’s my list of six ways clients can drive their PR agencies crazy.

The agency team members start pleading for a change of assignment (or begin interviewing for new jobs) when:

  1. A client criticizes really excellent work.  (Some clients think the best way to get the most for their money is to keep the pressure on the agency at all times to make the team feel it never does enough. This is counter-productive, because it’s very disheartening for agency staff.)
  2. A client expects the team to pitch the media and arrange interviews when there’s no news, and no budget to develop projects that would actually create news. Wasting a journalist’s time can ruin our relationship with that individual.
  3. A senior executive makes a habit of cancelling media interview appointments at the last minute. Sometimes it takes weeks, even months, to arrange an interview. We know that busy executives sometimes can’t help cancelling, but it’s the responsibility of our client contact person to explain the importance of the interview and make sure that a cancellation really can’t be avoided.
  4.  Company executives – even the client contact – react slowly to agency messages about journalists’ needs for information or access. If the company doesn’t meet a journalist’s deadline, either the company will be left out of media coverage that could have beneficial, or the journalist will write about the company without hearing its point-of-view and input.
  5. The client wants the agency to work for free. This is never stated directly in this way, but that’s what it means when the scope of a project that is underway is increased, but the agency is expected to stick to its original cost estimate.
  6.  The client doesn’t ask for the agency’s input, but simply gives orders to carry out plans made internally. The client squanders a valuable resource by not making use of the skills and experience of the agency team.  We can’t do our best for a client that doesn’t include us in the decision-making process.

One of the advantages of being the owner of a PR agency is that you can decide which clients you want to work for and walk away from the impossible ones. At Bridge, we are very fortunate to have considerate, thoughtful clients. But it’s my job as head of the company to sniff out the prospective clients that would indeed drive us crazy, and walk away from them. 

It’s only fair to show the other side of the story. My next post will list six ways PR agencies put client relationships at risk.

Lucy Siegel

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5 Responses to “Six Ways Clients Drive PR Firms Crazy”

  1. Henry A. de La Garza, APR Says:

    Well thought out Blog. After 30 years in the agency world, I can smell a difficult prospect and steer clear. We, too, are fortunate to have very good clients which appreciate excellence and extra effort – and acknowledge both with thank you’s and “atta boy’s.” Our clients are our good friends. We’re all about relationships and friendships, and not just about business.

    • Bridge Global Strategies Says:

      Henry – I know that our clients appreciate the enthusiasm and energy we bring to the work we do for them, and we greatly appreciate their support. We have 3 clients that have been with us from agency to agency for more than 10 years – one for more than 20! When everything clicks and the relationship works well, it’s good for both sides.

  2. German Saa Says:

    Excellent blog! There are many other ways in which clients can drive PR officers mad but the most usual one for a multinational leading a program from abroad is to send its most senior executive into a market and request (demand) interviews not because he/she indeed has something to actually say but just because he/she is the CEO. Nothing upsets most our journalists here in Japan to be in an interview with the CEO of a top US or European global company but who has NO relevant contents for Japan or sometimes even the entire Asia region!

    • Bridge Global Strategies Says:

      German, thanks for your comment. I remember quite well being in that position when living in Japan. Big American and European companies also assume that they are well-known everywhere, just because they’re well-known in the West. They think the media will jump at the chance to interview the CEO of such a big, famous company. But some companies that are well-known here are virtually unknown there. It’s not easy to tell people at such companies that no one knows who they are.

      We have the same problem in reverse here when the corporate communications staff of a Japanese or Korean company, for example, wants us to set up interviews for their CEO when they have nothing newsworthy to say. It might be different if the companies were well-known here, but just because they are big and powerful in Asia doesn’t mean that they are known in the U.S.

  3. How to drive a PR CRAZY! « Briana Patrick Public Relations Says:

    […] Buzz posted an article called “Six ways clients drive PR Firms Crazy” I think it states some pretty good ways to really mess up or piss off a PR […]

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