THINKPIECE: No one likes to say ’no’ to a client. But in PR, it’s one of the most positive things we can do

As members of a service industry, we recognize that client satisfaction is the lifeblood of our business. So ingrained is the desire to please, in fact, that we often forget that there are times when the best course of action for both our clients and ourselves is actually to say ’no.’

As members of a service industry, we recognize that client satisfaction is the lifeblood of our business. So ingrained is the desire to please, in fact, that we often forget that there are times when the best course of action for both our clients and ourselves is actually to say ’no.’

As members of a service industry, we recognize that client

satisfaction is the lifeblood of our business. So ingrained is the

desire to please, in fact, that we often forget that there are times

when the best course of action for both our clients and ourselves is

actually to say ’no.’



Indeed, one of the hallmarks of a full-service PR agency is the ability

to counsel clients rather than merely respond blindly to their

requests.



For example, clients will invariably ask us to implement corporate

positioning and media outreach programs that we instinctively know have

the potential to yield negative results. In such instances, it is our

professional and ethical obligation to respectfully suggest a different,

more prudent approach; to, in essence, say ’no.’



While there are clients who will momentarily be taken aback by such a

stance, they will almost certainly respect us all the more for

presenting our arguments with conviction and in the spirit of mutual

respect.



More difficult, however, is knowing how and when to say ’no’ to a client

request that is completely unreasonable, especially if saying ’yes’

would detract us from our true objectives.



We’ve all been through it. There’s the client who asks for a five-person

account team when he really only needs two; the client who demands

elaborate reports when a brief summary will do; and the client who

expects three press releases a week when only one at best is

necessary.



Even more problematic, though, is the client who forgets that we are

public relations practitioners, not caterers, party planners, travel

agents or personal assistants. It’s as inevitable as tomorrow’s New York

Times that at least one client will - innocently or otherwise - try to

stretch the boundaries of our relationship by asking us to secure her

airline reservations, book her power lunch table or help organize her

office party.



Unless ours is an agency that provides such ancillary services, it’s

incumbent on us to make certain that this line is never, ever

crossed.



If it is - if a client starts thinking of us as pushovers willing to do

even the most menial of tasks unrelated to PR - we will not only lose

sight of our true function but inevitably never regain that client’s

respect again.



Saying ’no’ to a client is never easy, often requiring the diplomatic

skills of a foreign emissary. Nevertheless, when we consider that our

reputation, credibility and employee morale may well depend on holding

firm to our convictions, it’s clear that the word ’no’ is ironically one

of the most positive forces in the public relations industry today.





Karen Murphy O’Brien is chairman of Murphy O’Brien in Santa Monica, CA.



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