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.