Every agency has one—the nightmare client. And if you don’t have them now, trust me, ambulance you will experience this at some point in your agency life. If you have worked in the public relations business long enough you will certainly have horror stories of clients with bad habits and unrealistic campaign requests.
Yes, I have fired clients in the past—and it’s not something that I relish having to do. But sometimes when you’ve taken enough Valium and pulled your hair out by the roots, it’s time to cut the cord and let them go. But not every horrible situation has to go that far. Sometimes all you need is a little time and a lot of patience.
From my experience, here are five nightmarish client personalities—along with gracious solutions for dealing with them.
- The pedantic, passive aggressive. This one can be a real doozy. They want to take forever to brief you on the business– taking days and sometimes weeks –causing major start-up delays on your part that may ultimately hinder results. There will be major rewrites on the press background materials and the press kit sits not only in the client’s office, but often in “legal” for weeks. Once I had a press kit sit in legal for nine months—yes, I could have had a baby in the time it took to approve the press kit.
In this case you’ve got to get to the decision-maker(s) and explain that time is money and offer to have a sit-down to get things moving.
- The frugal. This is the PR client who has already negotiated the budget down to the bare basics yet remembers all the goodies that the original proposal promised—and wants them included—for free.
In my experience, no client likes to hear the word “no,” but you’ve got to be firm. Try negotiating an hourly fee for additional program elements. Don’t let them get away with trying for freebies.
- The absentee. Sometimes worse than the client who hovers over your head, the absentee client is a danger. I once had a pharmaceutical company launch its product without us! Yes, they actually forgot that they hired a PR agency—you can’t make this up.
In this case reach out to the client’s assistant, even if it is a secretary, and make your situation and needs known. S/he can often be a lifesaver.
- The ignorant. This person’s lack of knowledge will not only hinder the implementation of your PR program but can hamper your results. Though they may be a great business person when it comes to communications, it’s just not their expertise.
Manage this type of relationship by setting expectations and goals. Let the person see some of your previous experience and results with similar clients so that he can be reassured that you know your stuff. Assure this person that your job is to help him look good—that’s often worked for me. So, with all due respect, please get out of my way and let me do my job.
- The hothead. The hothead often shows their stripes at a meeting when they are feeling uncomfortable and unprepared in front of their peers.
Take the time to email briefing documents in advance and review them prior to the meeting. If this behavior continues, or they becomes abusive to you or your staff, well you need a one-on-one meeting in which you lay down the law, gently, but firmly.