Maris Callahan

Six Things You Never Want to Hear From Prospective PR Clients

By: Maris Callahan | April 26, 2017 | 

Six Things You Never Want to Hear From Prospective PR ClientsWhen business is booming, you’re so busy you can barely remember how to spell your own name.

Then you turn around one day and realize your new business pipeline is empty.

Self-employment can be like that.

When I was first self-employed, I wanted to take on every single client that crossed my desk.

Even some who weren’t such a great fit.

I learned (in some cases the hard way) there are certain prospective PR clients you should very much walk away from even if you need the business.

Here are six red flags—things prospective clients actually said to me—that should tell you to think twice about whether or not you want to take them on as prospective PR clients.

PR Clients Red Flag #1

I want to be famous

During an early interview with a potential client, a fledgling sci-fi author whose husband bankrolled her self-published novel, I heard the words no publicist outside of Sex and the City wants to hear.

One of the questions I had asked her was, “What do you hope to get out of hiring public relations support?”

Her answer was:

I want to be on the New York Times bestseller list, I want my book to become a movie, and I want to be famous.”

The author then rattled off a list of all of the celebrities she was connected to through her child’s school, including Lady Gaga.

What I wanted to ask her was, “Then why would you need to hire me?”

You don’t become famous by hiring a publicist.

Just ask Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian.

It’s also not going to fast track anyone into becoming the next J.K. Rowling.

It’s great to have ambition, but you want PR clients who understand a public relations program needs to include all the PESO model elements such as paid media, social media, influencer marketing, thought leadership, and more.

PR Clients Red Flag #2

My [sister/friend/neighbor/wife/husband/cousin/mailman/dog] keeps telling me I need more PR

I once worked with a husband and wife who owned a small restaurant.

The wife was the proprietor, the “face” of the business.

The husband, who had a full-time corporate job, ran operations behind the scenes.

During the interview process, I worked mainly with the husband, who understood the PR basics.

Once I was hired, the wife became my primary point-of-contact.

It quickly became clear they were on very different pages when it came to their business.

The wife wanted to run her restaurant, not do interviews and TV segments.

PR was not a priority for her.

As a result, I was able to secure them some media, but the client was consistently frustrated she had to do extra work.

When you interview potential PR clients, you must be up front with how much time and effort is required from all parties.

This includes identifying who will be responsible for those efforts on the PR clients’ side.

I assumed it would be the husband given his outgoing personality and marketing knowledge.

I was wrong.

A little due diligence up front will save you from chasing unresponsive clients who underestimated the time investment needed on their part.

PR Clients Red Flag #3

We loved your proposal and we want to move forward. But we want to pay you 50 percent less than your quote.

If Today Me could go back in time, I would smack Seven Years Ago Me upside the head for the time I sat in a room with a client who said she loved my proposal and wanted to hire me, but at nearly half the rate I had proposed.

Negotiation is a healthy part of business.

There was probably a good way to meet her in the middle by scaling down the plan.

However, with little experience, I said yes.

This is how I learned that if you take a client at 50 percent of your rate, you would need to take a second client to make up the income you’re losing.

So, you’re literally taking two clients for the price of one.

You’re working twice as hard.

You are stretched too thin to give any of your clients your full attention.

Instead, price yourself fairly, work as hard as you can, and you’ll end up with happier, more loyal clients.

PR Clients Red Flag #4

We thought you would be much cheaper!

I once told a prospective client my freelance rates and she said ,“Wow! I really thought you would be cheaper [than our last agency].”

Now that I work on the client side, I ensure my agencies feel fairly compensated.

It’s important they know I value their contributions and commitment to my company’s business.

It’s a give and take relationship.

There are some things in the world I can understand wanting to save money on: Your morning coffee, your unlimited data plan, hey, even your federal taxes.

There are also things I would never want to get from the bargain bin: Lasik surgery, a bikini wax, and the person responsible for managing my professional reputation.

You don’t want to be the cheapest option out there, even if it costs you an account.

PR Clients Red Flag #5

We didn’t like our last PR firm because they didn’t get us any coverage. We got it all on our own.

Do you want to scream too?

PR results are very difficult to measure and they aren’t always immediate.

You can spend hours pitching and following up, but for reasons out of your control, a story doesn’t stick.

Fast-forward six months your client receives a call from a reporter that you pitched.

That is a result of your work.

When a prospective client told me her PR person wasn’t successful, but showed me a long list of media placements, I knew something was off.

It’s perfectly okay for you to want your prospective clients to understand and respect that securing media coverage is a complex process.

Many do and those people are called great clients.

PR Clients Red Flag #6

If this PR campaign doesn’t get more people in the door, I’m going to close my business.

Enough said.

What are some of your red flags when it comes to vetting prospective PR clients?

About Maris Callahan

Maris Callahan is the director of communications at @properties, where she manages public relations, digital marketing, and social media. She lives in Chicago with Brad, her significant other, and their chihuahua Henry. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

  • I don’t have a single statement, but a red flag for me is if they’re difficult to work with in the proposal process (dragging things out, poor communication, missed deadlines, disappearing for weeks then popping up with urgent requests, major changes/reversals, etc.) they’re probably going to be a difficult client. At that point it’s a good idea to cut your losses — or double your fees!

  • Bill Clifford

    A giant one for me is if their only goal in monetarily based. Yes, we all want to be compensated for our time, however, if you are solely equating success with income/numbers it may not be the best fit for an great client relationship. The primary goal for any business should be sustainable growth and the reality is that is takes time to do so.

    Another one, ‘We have a shoestring budget, so if your proposal is low and can show immediate results, there is more business for you down the line’. Enough said.

    • Ohh that is a good one! I had a lot of those. The WORST is when a fellow communicator tried to pull that one on me. He wanted to subcontract me to write and pitch a press release for $200 and “if it worked out, he’d have big business for me eventually.” Ummm, no.

  • Love this post! its so true when starting out you want to take on anyone, but certainly thats not the right approach, I think that “You don’t want to be the cheapest option out there, even if it costs you an account” is a great quote for anyone starting out to really keep in mind.

    My experience is the same as Rob below – having a really slack experience during proposals, at this moment I always diplomatically pass, but thankfully this is a rare occurrence!

    • It’s great when you start accumulating enough experience to be able to say “no” when there isn’t a good fit. Any client that would be offended isn’t the right client, too!