Agony Uncle: I know my client is 'looking around' - should I confront them?

PRWeek's Agony Uncle answers questions on confronting clients, jettisoning jargon, mentoring the un-mentorable, and the difference between marketing and corporate PR.

Corporate flirting

Q. I know my client is ‘looking around’. Should I confront them?

A. You could, but they will either deny it and be annoyed you put them on the spot, or they will admit it and be annoyed you put them on the spot. What they are very unlikely to do is apologise and drop the ‘looking around’. Alternatively, you could start bombarding them with love and expensive entertainments, but this will look desperate and just put you in an expensive arms race with your rivals. Your best hope is to smarten yourself up a bit, remind them of the good times and suggest some exciting but realistic plans for the future. They may decide, after a bit more corporate flirting, that you are still quite attractive.

Agony Uncle: How can I get my team to pick up the phone and actually speak to journalists?

Lending an ear

Q. I’ve been asked to ‘mentor’ a rising star who is about to be promoted to head an agency. I suspect they already know more than me. What should I do?

A. Mentoring isn’t about telling people things; it is about listening, questioning and occasionally offering advice. The mentor’s job is to help the mentee find their own way. Often people are not clear on what they think until they have actually said it out loud. But having such open conversations with a boss or peers can be difficult. So you, as a mentor, will be there as a non-competing professional friend. When I first started mentoring I worried after each meeting that I hadn’t said anything really useful or ‘given value’. Then I began to realise it wasn’t so much what I said but what they said which was valuable. For any mentor with a consultancy background this is a bit of a gear change, but a very enjoyable one.

Sweep the sheds of jargon

Q. How can I get the specialists in my organisation to write in plain English instead of over-long, pompous jargon?

A. It’s always tricky telling people that their writing is boring or unreadable. It is a bit like telling someone they are both a bad driver and unlikeable. There is no miracle cure, but there is a more objective and less personal way of motivating people to write simply and clearly. Built into Microsoft Word are two systems called the Flesch Reading Ease Test and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test. These tell you, in a nutshell, how readable your copy is and what US school grade you would need to have achieved to read the document. (If your specialists reply that they are writing for well-educated people, ask them how many of these have English as their second language.) Encourage your verbose specialists to use the Flesch-Kincaid test… accessed through ‘Spelling and Grammar’ on Word… and see how quickly they start competing to get the top score for clarity and ease of reading.

Corporate comms clarification

Q. What is the difference between marketing and corporate PR? I’ve been told I should aim for corporate PR.

A. Well at the basic level, marketing PR is targeting those who pay for, or use, a product or service… customers and consumers. Essentially these are people or organisations who give you money. Corporate PR is targeting those who can cost you money and make your life more difficult (or better): government, staff, shareholders, NGOs and so forth. Except of course there are some grey and overlapping practice areas. And in reality the two are mutually dependent. Marketing PR people have a tendency to think corporate PR is stuffy, and corporate PR people sometimes think marketing PR is fluffy. There are grains of truth in both stereotypes… but only grains. There are great careers to be had in either or both. Over a longish career most people will do both, though it is more common to start in marketing then migrate to corporate than the other way round. As a very basic measure if you don’t read a quality newspaper nearly every day you are probably better suited – at least for now – to marketing PR.


Trevor Morris is the co-author of PR Today and Richmond University's professor of PR

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