CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: I've just had a disturbing call from a client who is unhappy

with the person servicing her account. The executive is one of my best.

I don't want to upset my staff by moving them off, but if I don't, I

risk losing the business. What should I do to sort this out?

Mr. E, Los Angeles

A: PR is a people business and relationships are crucial. While the

happiness of your staff is important, this is a service industry you're

working in and keeping the customer satisfied is vital. I asked Michael

Nyman, president of Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, for his advice. He

recommends finding out what the issues are and changing the staff member

if necessary. He adds that he would explain to the client that this

person was a highly valued part of the team. 'The answer might be to put

a second person on the account and make the problem person less


He suggests that the personality conflict could be resolved by having

the account person do less client management and more media


If your account person is really not getting along with the client, then

they're likely to sense a personality issue and may prefer working on

something else.

Q: I was an assistant to a senior PR person who's been fired and I've

been told to step into her role as a result of cost-cutting


I'm totally unprepared and dealing with lots of negative calls as a

result of these cutbacks. I'm not sure how to deal with the pressure.


Ms. C, New York

A: Stepping into your boss' shoes is no easy job. But since you've been

thrown into the deep end you may as well rise to the challenge.

First, get an early start and make a list of all your priorities for the

day, then tackle them and reorder them as the day goes on. Don't shy

away from tough press calls. Not answering the phone is no answer. Here

is your opportunity to make a name for yourself with both the management

and the media.

Establish yourself as the main point of contact with the media so the

messages don't get confused.

Allocate blocks of time for certain key tasks. Since your firm has been

getting some bad press, you need to come up with something positive as a


Try and get your staff to e-mail you with interesting tidbits to deflect

attention from your own difficult situation.

Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help. If you have an agency, ask for

their advice and support. And the same goes with your manager, who knows

you're doing the company a favor.

Q: I organized a conference call with my chief executive for a Wall

Street Journal reporter who didn't put the phone down at the end. As a

result, she overheard bits of our conversation involving sensitive

company information. I'm trying to negotiate with the reporter to leave

it out of her report, but I'm not having much luck. How can I explain

this to my boss?

Ms. J, Cleveland

A: Ouch. A tricky one. You're not the only one who has made mistakes,

though. I know someone whose corporate PR strategy was revealed on a

reporter's voice mail by accident, after they arranged a three-way phone


Depending on the nature of the information, you may be required to

disclose it publicly. Alternatively, talk to your boss about other

information that you might 'swap.' Better yet, try to come up with

another story to tempt the journalist, and show what a valuable source

you can be in the future.

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