CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: I've been working at my present agency for a few years. I've ascended the management ladder at a steady pace. Not to brag, but I'm very good at what I do and I am especially proud of my ability to deal with clients.

Q: I've been working at my present agency for a few years. I've ascended the management ladder at a steady pace. Not to brag, but I'm very good at what I do and I am especially proud of my ability to deal with clients.

Though some may say you should never mix work with your personal life, I have actually become friendly with one certain client. Our relationship is going great, and, quite frankly, perhaps surprisingly, it hasn't affected our professional rapport at all.

Here is the problem. I have some pretty close friends here at the firm.

I told them what was going on. Though I am not intentionally hiding the romance, some things needn't be made public to all. Unfortunately, some so-called friend has a big mouth. Now, top brass knows about this and have made it known to me that they don't approve.

This leads to many questions. Is it top brass' business, especially if I still serve my client well? What about the in-office chatterbox? I am deeply offended that someone would divulge personal information. I suppose I should have suspected this could happen, but I thought we were all adults here and could be trusted. Guess not. What should I do?

Mr. B, Chicago

A: Part of the function of PR is managing perceptions. Take a step back from this situation and evaluate it as you would for a client. In this case, your internal audiences are your colleagues and the "top brass." The external audience is the client with whom you have a relationship, and the rest of your clients.

In your conversations about your personal life you've probably given no thought to the impact of your statements on any of these parties. From now on, you must think before you speak.

Your firm may have no set policy against dating clients. But you must ask yourself if the situation creates a negative perception of you among coworkers and senior management. You must also consider how other clients would react if they knew.

You ask, 'Is it the top brass' business?

The answer is yes, of course it is. You are the one who has made it their business by talking to your colleagues. A harsh lesson about the impact of self-fulfilling office gossip was recently learned by the former editor of The Harvard Business Review. Don't let yourself become the next case study in conflict of interest.

And you can't blame the messenger - you opened the door. If you want to keep your private issues separate from your working life, keep your mouth shut.

Q: I am the corporate communications VP for an enterprise software company.

The CEO recently gave a keynote address at a big conference. On his way to the podium, he tripped and fell flat on his face. A staff photographer from the local paper snapped a picture of him that must be incredibly embarrassing (we haven't seen it, it did not run in the paper).

My CEO wants me to get that picture. Frankly, I think he's afraid they will splash it on the front page of the business section if the share price plummets or something. How can I make sure it never sees the light of day?

Ms. P, Burlingame, CA

A: Sorry, you are out of luck. I spoke to the photo desk of the San Jose Mercury News to find out their policy on this sort of thing. The gentleman there informed me that the paper does not sell its unused pictures. Other papers will no doubt feel the same. I'm afraid you'll have to warn your CEO that there is no guarantee the photo will never run. In the meantime, make sure you provide plenty of good photo opportunities so the bad picture won't become the photo of last resort.

Do you have a problem that no one else has been able to solve? Try Pandora. E-mail her at pandora@prweek.com.

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