CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: Our client just hired a second PR firm to do an additional

project and our work is overlapping. How do we resolve this?

Mr. R, Boston

A: I don't want to frighten you but there are the odd few clients around

for whom this is the favored cowardly route to ease one agency off the

scene completely and bring on a new shop. Generally, they choose this

crazy method of transition because they want to avoid conflicts

(although, ironically, this is just the kind of situation that is most

likely to make you pick up the phone and shout), and don't want to come

right out and tell you you're fired.

But, calm down. It ain't necessarily so, as Gershwin's Porgy and Bess

sang (I feel the need to show off my more classic taste in music after

the N'Sync outburst a couple of weeks ago). Sometimes, it's just plain

lack of organization on the part of the client that means you end up

doubling work with another agency.

But you need to address it head on, especially if both agencies are

calling journalists to pitch the stories.

Luckily for you, Mr. R, I recently ran into Drew Kerr, from New York

agency Four Corners, who had the misfortune to find himself in just this

predicament a year ago. He advises an urgent meeting with the client and

their new agency to hammer out exactly who is supposed to be doing


In most cases, this should sort everything out. But what happens if,

like Kerr, you have a client who thinks it's a good idea to have two

agencies doing the same project and see who comes out best? Kerr

advocates one last trick: 'You could ask a journalist who you have a

good relationship with to complain directly to the client about being

pitched twice. If they haven't listened to you, perhaps they'll listen

to an annoyed journalist.'

If that doesn't work, he says, it may be the time to resign, adding 'you

don't want to do anything that would jeopardize your relationship with


Q: I have built some really good relationships with key journalists, but

my colleagues keep hijacking them and mentioning my name. I don't want

my contacts to think I'm shopping them around. How can I tell my

colleagues to build their own relationships without appearing petty?

Ms. P, Los Angeles

A: Tricky one. As you know, in PR you live and die by the quantity, but

more particularly the quality of your relationships with the people you

need to influence.

So you need to think hard about who you're giving out names to,

especially if that person is going to use your name when speaking to the

journalist. That journalist is going to think that you, at the very

least, know the subject they have been called about and have sanctioned

it. So if you're going to be nice to your colleagues and let them

'borrow' your contacts, make sure you know what they're going to call


But obviously there is a limit to handing out your contacts, and it

sounds like you may have reached it. There are two options, subtle and

not so subtle, depending on how thick-skinned your colleague is. For the

more sensitive soul, the next time he or she asks for a name and number

you could simply dodge the question and say, 'Ah yes, I'll give you that

sometime.' Do this enough and they'll get the message.

Alternatively, simply lay it on the line and say, 'Why don't you call

through to (insert media outlet here) and see who would be the most

appropriate person?' It's not petty - it's your livelihood, after all.

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