Q: My client has attracted the attention of some vociferous
activist groups who are threatening to demonstrate outside their
offices. I'm tempted to arrange to meet them and address their concerns
directly, but I'm worried that this could end up generating even more
negative publicity. What would you advise?
Mr. T, Chicago
A: Activists? Bunch of dreadlock-wearing, work-avoiding, tree-hugging,
trouble-makers. Who do they think they are, questioning your
Oops! It's just so tempting to be re-actionary about reactionaries.
To find you some sounder advice, I sought out Nick Nichols, chairman of
Nichols-Dezenhall Communications Management Group in Washington, DC.
This is what he advised:
First, know what you're up against. Today's major activist groups are
run by sophisticated, media-savvy, well-financed (and occasionally
violent) pros. Their objectives are likely to have nothing to do with
learning about your company, building alliances, or resolving
grievances, but have everything to do with gaining something at your
expense. That something invariably boils down to power (over you), money
Should you meet with them? If the 'issue' is in its infancy and the
activists are genuinely concerned citizens, that would make sense under
well-controlled circumstances. But if they're professional attack
groups, I say no.
So, what should you do? The first priority should be the safety of your
employees and others near your facility. Contact employees, the police
and hire discrete but seasoned security professionals. Second, preempt
with the media. Get out with your message and show the attackers they
will not intimidate you. Third, find out who these people really
If they have legitimate concerns, then fix them. If they are shills for
a personal injury lawyer, or people with an extreme agenda, don't
hesitate to expose their true motives. Finally, mobilize third-parties
who can counter-attack, support your track record and help you make
improvements where necessary.
Q: I'm attracted to my client and I think she feels the same way about
me. I know work romances were discouraged in the 20th century but I
think people are a little more relaxed today. What do you think? Will
this hurt our careers or make it difficult for the people we work
Mr. S, Los Angeles
A: Get involved with a client? Bad move! This disastrous course of
action would hurt your career, credibility and, worse of all, jeopardize
It is almost always a bad idea to mix business with the more intimate
pleasures. (Unless the more intimate pleasures are your business.) There
is no way to tell how long your extra-curricular alliance will last, how
smooth the sailing will be, or how amicably you will part (or stay
together, for that matter). Closing down your romantic account could
also close down your client account. Also, it puts your teammates on the
account at a distinct disadvantage.
They are relying only upon their smarts and expertise, while you are
falling back on assets measured on an entirely different scale. The
situation would rapidly devolve into a 'boss' wife' scenario, where they
start treating you more like a client and less like a colleague. This is
destructive to the overall structural integrity of the account.
Finally, think about what this would mean to your client and her
Your agency was hired to provide PR counsel and communications work. If
the client contact becomes romantically involved with someone on the
agency-side, it hurts his or her reputation and credibility.
These 'client relations' can lead to disaster. Avoid them!