It’s high time those working in public relations stopped apologising for who they are and what they do. It’s high time they held their heads high, walked tall and stopped being pushed around.
If You Want to Make the World a Better Place
A few weeks back I was approached by a mid-sized public relations agency for help with a client project. The scope of the project had several elements on a pretty tight turnaround but, after a few back and forth conversations, we settled on a deliverable and a timescale that, though challenging, was achievable.
On the Friday before the project was due to commence, I received an email stating that “we had a client meeting this morning and the timeline has shifted forward a bit”. What this essentially meant was that the time to complete the project was halved at a time of year when everyone I know (me included) is busy finishing things off before the Christmas holiday.
Now regardless of the precise circumstances and my response (“It will cause problems; I can do it, but I’ll have to work some very long hours so it’ll cost you 50% more”), the thing that struck me most was the agency’s apparent willingness to say ‘yes’ to what, all things considered, was a very unreasonable demand from their client.
I’d already seen other evidence of this same client causing issues. In the part of the brief I’d already completed I noticed that the original timescale was a month. The time I was briefed on? A week.
You might be reading this thinking it’s admirable of the agency to bend over backwards and to go the extra mile to meet its client’s demands.
PR is a service industry after all, and I’m well aware that the ‘customer is always right’ attitude prevails within it. But just question that for a moment: is it admirable? Is it really?
As far as I can tell there is no business reason why at the last minute the client needs this work a week earlier than agreed or why, in fact, it couldn’t even wait until the new year.
I’ve written about saying ‘no’ to unreasonable client demands on more than one occasion over the last few years, notably in January 2014 (“If They Say Jump, Do You Say ‘How High’?”) and most recently in September this year (“Why I Said ‘Non’ to the European Parliament as a Client”).
Prompted by someone who attended one of my social media workshops a couple of months ago, I was also reminded of something I wrote a couple of years back called The Tale of Fast, Cheap and Good. It was a parable of sorts about the trade off between quality work, quick work and costly work.
Take a Look at Yourself
On the CIPR’s Influence website just last week, an ex-colleague and friend of mine who is now Head of Communications at Oxford University Press published a rallying call for the PR industry. Emma Duke said: “…it’s time that, as a profession, we think about what’s behind [our] lack of confidence and the reasons why we deserve a seat at the [boardroom] table.”
She’s not the first nor will she be the last to drive this agenda. Ketchum’s Stephen Waddington and 2018 President of the CIPR Sarah Hall have been very vocal about it in the UK, while Spin Sucks author Gini Dietrich often seems to me to be on a one woman mission to drag the public relations industry kicking and screaming along with her in the US.
And Then Make a Change
And then there’s stuff like this: upon the death of infamous, shamed publicist Max Clifford this week, Director General of the PRCA Francis Ingham published a comment on the news section of the association website that did nothing but disparaged Clifford.
🤦♂️ Why? What was the point in that?
I’d have understood it if he was asked his opinion, but to proactively publish a ‘comment’ with no other apparent context? Not only did the “I feel sorry for his friends and family” line feel completely insincere, but writing something so damning hardly seems very ethical. For the life of me, I just don’t understand why it was even necessary to pass comment at all.
The Man in the Mirror
These three occurrences sum up what’s continued to plague the public relations industry throughout 2017 and will undoubtedly do so next year as well.
As a profession, PR has little self-respect or self-confidence. It’s no wonder it gets pushed around when it has no self-esteem.
In July 2012 I wrote a post/rant entitled “I’ll Tell You What’s Bloody Wrong With PR…”. Here we are more than five years later and little has changed.
But even if you cannot change the nature of the industry as a whole, you CAN change YOU.
You CAN say no to unreasonable client demands.
You CAN acknowledge your value by turning down work from people or businesses who don’t recognise that value.
You CAN charge what you’re worth.
You CAN do an amazing job while refusing to be pushed around.
And therein lies my Christmas wish. From me to you: believe in yourself and respect yourself.
Because you’re worth it 😉
Have a wonderful Christmas and a hugely prosperous new year.