CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

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

and notoriety.

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

the account.

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!

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