Every relationship has its ups and downs, even professional ones!
There will always be the chance for a difference of opinion and unmet expectations to create some waves in an otherwise calm and easy-going relationship. It’s important, then as a client, to go into your next PR relationship with the right partner - one that can see your point of view, express theirs, and arrive at a result that works for everyone.
In my years of agency experience, I’ve found that difficult conversations are few and far between, but the fact remains, they can and do happen. Here are my tips to navigating difficult conversations.
Be choosy in the beginning.
Just like any relationship, who you go into partnership with will play a huge role in how turbulent or easy going your time with them will be. When meeting with PR agencies initially, it’s not just skill, experience and price that you need to consider. You should have great rapport with the PR team from the outset! Feel free to ask them the difficult questions now and see how they respond. Are they open and honest? Do they show transparency and empathy? Could you have a beer or wine with them on a Friday afternoon? This sort of relationship will create an environment of trust and confidence and is a good starting place if you need to have a difficult conversation.
Just say it.
PR consultants and managers take great pride in our work, and in our client relationships. We are hungry for results and are probably losing sleep some nights from a slow burning campaign! From a client’s point of view though, a lack of results or a difference of opinion in strategy or execution can start to challenge the confidence in the PR team. I’ve seen this previously and, without swift action, it can lead to the client responding slower to emails or avoiding phone calls because its easier than confronting people. This actually has a detrimental effect to the cause because we can’t act without approvals, which can result in a loss of opportunities for you
My advice is to set up a meeting and talk through your concerns. Sometimes it may be easier to go through a senior manager or director rather than your direct account contact which, although difficult for the consultant to hear second-hand it, still tackles the issue and can ignite change. You are paying for a professional service and it is always our intention to deliver. If it’s an error or oversight on our end, you can be assured it will be addressed and rectified! If it’s a misunderstanding, it’s a great chance to clear the air and move forward.
Check the runs on the board
If you’ve been with the same PR team for some time and they are consistently delivering on the agreed scope of work and bringing in results then, as in any close partnership, it could be worth picking your battles. Your communication team should be keeping you abreast of updates, wins and challenges, but sometimes waiting a week or so can make the world of difference, and your questions could be answered before even needing to ask them. I know first hand it can take a few weeks of pitching a story (and re-pitching a new angle), only to have a number of journalists respond with interest in the same afternoon! So be kind and decide if the difficult conversation is actually needed.
Don’t be afraid to speak up. From a consultant’s point of view, we would rather know up front of any issues so we can address them and move forward with a long healthy partnership.