Q. We’ve foolishly hired someone who is a ‘friend’ of a client. After a good start they’ve stopped pulling their weight and become a liability. How can I get rid of them without upsetting the client?
A. Tricky. Your client probably won’t be amazed – though love can be pretty blind – if you tell them their ‘friend’ isn’t working out, but they will be embarrassed, and embarrassment can be a big problem. I knew one agency man who had a night out with a client. The client got very drunk and was sick in the agency man’s new car. The next day the embarrassed client refused all his calls and a few weeks later sacked the agency. In your case, the only thing you can do is give the ‘friend’ a formal warning, with a strong informal hint that if this goes to the next stage, it will be very embarrassing for the client. Hopefully the ‘friend’, assuming they actually care for the client, will take the hint and either find a new job or pull their finger out. Good luck.
Degree or not degree?
Q. My daughter is 17 and could almost certainly get a place at the university of her choice. She has decided there is only one career for her: PR. In my opinion (possibly biased) she has a natural aptitude for the kind of work we do; she is curious, empathetic, sociable and has a flair for writing. Should I encourage her to go to university, or would she be better off starting work in PR next year?
A. If your daughter wants to go to university, I wouldn’t discourage her. She may end up with a whopping debt and salary prospects no better than average, but three years at university is still a pretty special life experience. It doesn’t really even matter what she studies, as in-job PR training and qualifications are very good, although she would be wise to get involved in uni activities that will look good on a PR applicant’s CV. However, similarly, if she doesn’t want to go to uni, I wouldn’t discourage her. The PR apprenticeship scheme is excellent and, as I have said, there are fantastic in-job training and qualifications available via the PRCA. Moreover, whichever route she follows, if it turns out to have been the wrong choice, she is still young and there is plenty of time to switch from uni to work, or vice versa.
All talk and no action
Q. I am a senior account director in an owner-managed agency. Our managing director is always telling us that we must avoid over-servicing. However, the chronic over-servicing is not the fault of the teams. Ironically, it is our boss who constantly over-promises to clients and creates unnecessary work by suggesting things they have not asked for. How do I get my boss to stop paying lip service to tackling over-servicing and actually take action?
A. Lots of owner-managers achieve initial success by promising the earth and then working their, and their staff’s, socks off to deliver it. But as the business grows, the practice becomes embedded, as does poor profitability. This is very difficult for you to approach directly, but much easier for an expert outsider. An external mentor or a non-executive director – particularly one with whom you feel you could talk confidentially – is much less of a threat to the MD. I can suggest some names if you are interested. Don’t worry, I won’t include my own!
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Trevor Morris is the co-author of PR Today and Richmond University's professor of PR