CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: I am so frustrated with this one client I have. He simply cannot

deal with me ever disagreeing with him. I don't want to lose him as a

client, so I generally tend to agree but leave feeling that I haven't

really been effective. How can I deal with this situation without losing

my job or the client?

Mr. C, Princeton, NJ

A: I used to have a bumper sticker that said 'never do anything that

sacrifices your body, compromises your dignity or robs you of your

self-respect.' Now I realize the first is not relevant here ... but the

latter two are. I would say, don't do anything that leaves you feeling

totally redundant.

That said, I also know that, unfortunately, we all have to butter up

someone at some point. From my experience, I have realized that there is

an art to making people feel like you respect them without necessarily

agreeing with every word they say.

Try using phrases like 'That's really interesting, how about we do that

and then ...,' 'Yes, that could work really well. But what do you think

about handling it this way ...' The idea is that you give this client

the degree of respect that he or she obviously expects from an external

agency person, while still managing to get your own view across. Because

if you can't manage to provide objective advice to this client, you are

failing your agency.

Q: I'm organizing my first major overseas press trip, to the Bahamas,

for one of our biggest clients. I've managed to get six really top-level

journalists to come, along with two people from the client's


However, other PR people have warned me about one of the freelance

journalists on the trip, saying that he is a trouble-maker who makes

life difficult for the PR people and almost never writes anything. I

can't rescind his invitation at this point. How can I make sure he

doesn't ruin the trip for everyone else or embarrass me in front of my


Ms. R, Chicago

A: You don't say exactly what kind of on-trip behavior has earned this

reporter his bad reputation in the PR community, but it's not unusual to

come across one of those journalists who uses press trips as a way of

getting a free vacation. Other common crimes include forgetting

passports on overseas trips (you'd be amazed how often that happens,

even among seasoned travelers), over-indulgence on the alcohol front,

striking up 'inappropriate' relationships with fellow journalists (you

might regard this as their own business but your client may not), and

loudly complaining about the food, weather, transport and anything else

that is slightly less than top quality.

The key is to keep your cool. Blow your top in front of the client and

you'll instantly lose credibility. If this journalist's demands are

unfair, he or she will show themselves up anyway and you only need to

stay polite and graceful to win the day.

Of course, if they are being really sneaky and complaining about you to

your client (another common press trip nasty), you may need to embark on

some crafty PR of your own. Take the opportunity to talk to your most

senior client contact in the bar one night, and ask him or her what they

think of all the journalists on the trip. Use this as your cue to

address any issues you suspect that the journalist has brought up. It's

far better to handle this problem on the spot rather than waiting until

you're back in the office.

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