Ridiculous clients and fearful PR agencies

“Pris, Today’s such a crappy day!!” A friend who was in a PR agency complained to me when who met up this afternoon. She went on to tell me about this particular demanding client of hers. I listened to her story with sympathy and great amusement.
What happened was that the client was expecting a news coverage over the weekend (for an interview/ event held last week) and it did not happen. This morning, the story came out in The Straits Times (note to my foreign friends who are reading this, The Straits Times is one of Singapore’s national English broadsheets). So, you would think, the client must be happy? Apparently not.

The client emailed my friend and the boss a note saying along the line of “We need a front page story!”

Unfortunately, the story came out in one of the news pages in The Straits Times, not too small but not the front page.

I rolled my eyes when I heard that. How do you explain to such clients that it is not only a tall order but it is an unreasonable and ridiculous demand?

It is very common for clients to ask PR agencies to perform tasks that are not only unreasonable, most of the times, they are totally ridiculous, especially when all the information the client can offer is not even newsworthy enough for a small column?
I was reading an interesting  The INQ’s article and I find a lot of truths in there:-

Because clients are as unreasonable as most journalists, by and large. They produce little widgets and expect their PRs to get a front page splash on the Financial Times. If the miserable PR manages to get any mention in said paper, the client will see it and rip the coverage to pieces, forgetting in the process that a journo is not a tool of the PR …

I was also reading Peter Shankman’s book that I mentioned in my last post and there is this rather funny paragraph that I just have to include here.

 I remembered a friend once called me, furious that the reporter didn’t mention him in a second story he did on my friend’s industry.

“Why should he have mentioned you?” I asked my friend.

“Because after he didn’t mention my company in the first story, I called him up and ripped him a new one! I told him that he should be ashamed of himself and not even call himself a journalist if he didn’t do his basic homework to realise that my company is in the space he covered!”

I find myself smiling when I read this. It reminded me of an ex-client who was (I used “was” because it seems to have disappeared, probably ceased operations), a very small player in a particular industry but he insisted that we get a story in the main dailies about his company as “the next big thing!”  and when there were stories about the big players in the industry and his company was not mentioned (because it was new, small and had alot of product flaws), he jumped and demanded that we explained why the company was not highlighted in the story.

Ok, the BIG question here is – Why then did PR agencies allow themselves to be stepped on all over by the clients’ unreasonable demands?

Fear! Yes, fear of losing the clients. Some PR professionals and even the bosses/ MDs/ Directors bend over and compromise to the extend of reducing integrity – just so to keep the client “happy”. Some will attempt to explain, offer alternatives, attempt to help the client to see the bigger picture and most of the times, the clients have their ways and some crappy campaigns were produced with unreasonable expectations and the miserable PR people had to annoy the hell out of journalists to try to get that “front page story.”

Andrew B. Smith wrote the following and again, I see alot of truth in there:-

However, to ask the journalist how much coverage the client can expect is clearly a redundant question – aside from the fact that it is up to the publication to decide how much space a story gets, this can’t be predicted or guaranteed in advance – and certainly not without any information on which to make even an educated guess. A bit like being asked to guarantee the outcome of a race when you have no idea who the runners and riders are.

I am trying to find out from my friend what she and her boss did to reply/ explain to the client about NOT GETTING the front page story.

Another PR person told me, “PR is definitely a misunderstood profession.” PR people are constantly under fire and often caught in between many different groups of people. There are many great PR people around, who are highly skilled, trained and have great credential. Perhaps, some “black sheeps” in the industry should be blamed for the bad name of PR. Perhaps there is just very limited understanding of what PR can or cannot do. Without the right understanding, things get misunderstood and resulted in grievance.

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