PR relationships are a two-way street and, handled properly, they should
mean never having to say you’re sorry, says Simon Berry
In normal circumstances Client A’s attention to detail would be deemed
admirable. He is thorough in all his dealings with suppliers, and makes
no exception for his PR consultant. In fact, he is more than half
convinced he could do the job equally well himself.
Then there is Client B who apparently believes in letting his
professionals get on with the job. Progress meetings are so rare that he
(invariably it’s a he) could grow a full beard between them. The PR
adviser is further unnerved when frenzied phone calls produce no
approved texts to meet imminent deadlines.
I believe in giving a personal service, indeed, as a one man operation I
have no choice in the matter. For the smaller consultancy this personal
contact, indicating closer communication with the client, greater
consistency of service and, with luck, a lasting business relationship,
should be a great selling point. And when praise or blame is to be
allocated the client knows exactly where to direct it (and vice versa).
My clients are mainly first-timers in the PR game. I try to keep their
expectations realistic, and I hope for some honest feedback. I find I’m
having to rediscover my intuitive faculties, a hard task for an ex-
business journalist used to discovering immediately if the people or
organisations he writes about are happy at the results.
Now I agonise over whether, without being sure quite what signs to look
out for, I have satisfied a set of clients who may still be unsure what
they themselves are looking to achieve from the whole exercise. Do I
lack the proper professional detachment or what?
Take Client A, who eats up far more hours than I would dare to charge
out; he will go on breathing down my neck however successful I might
prove on his behalf. Get him a hard-won profile feature (possibly
involving various unrecoverable out of pocket expenses) and I’m left in
no doubt that he expects something similar to be achieved every week.
With Client B deadlines are missed, but do we miss each other? It’s hard
to say. I thin k I do a good job on his behalf, but I fantasise about
how much better it could be (for both of us) with a vestige of internal
I have an occasional rush of guilt when I realise both are paying me
very similar fees, yet the time sheet tells a quite different story.
So do both sides carry on until it all ends in tears? The smaller
consultancy desperately needs to retain existing clients for healthy
cashflow, if for no other reason. Good sense dictates we should give one
a proportionate amount of time and attention. But how is this possible
until the client has established a reasonable modus vivendi with his
advisers, stopped trying to edit the pants off every media release, but
attempted to retain reasonably open communication lines?
Some basic means of measuring client contentment is what I need. From
now on my main clients will receive a monthly letter which will ask:
‘Have I really been of value to you?’ Enclosed with it will be two round
stickers. One, printed in heart-warming crimson, says ‘yes’; the other,
in sober black, says ‘no’.
Or, to be realistic, should there be one more which says ‘I’m in a
Simon Berry runs Glasgow-based Greenleaf Editorial