The impossible ideal : The Client/PR professional relationship

Posted by suzichristie on February 22, 2017

Last month I wrote about the problem of clients who think PR is an easy avenue to fame and riches. During the article, I made the point that fame is no substitute for being skilled in your chosen career path and that it is almost impossible to publicise someone to sustained acclaim. Just look at the many reality stars who have come and gone in the blink of an eye. Without constant top-ups of headline capturing craziness - once you have done Celebrity Big Brother what else is left to do? – there really isn’t anywhere else to go except anonymity. 

During the blog, I quoted an article by Kris Ruby entitled, “Top 10 Signs You Shouldn’t Hire a Publicist.” In the article, she pinpoints the common reasons people’s relationships with PR don’t work out. It got me thinking about what I look for in a client, because the relationship between a client and their PR is a symbiotic relationship where each participant is working towards a common goal.

Now, I’m not going to write one of those top-ten lists as that has been done a million times. Instead, I’m going to describe an almost impossible set of circumstances – an ideal that can never exist because the demands of reality will always make it more difficult.

I said in the last blog that one of the lovely things about our clients is that they really know their chosen careers. Some of them may balk at the description of themselves as ‘experts’ but compared to the majority of people, and more importantly the majority of potential customers, they are the expert. If you have a problem with rodents, Cleankill Pest Control will sort your problem, even if it is a statue of Jesus being assaulted by pigeons. If you need to organise a private ambulance, then you need to contact Southern Ambulance Services. Someone to help you with planning consent and building design – GM Moore & Associates. Selling you home – Ibbett Mosely. Accountancy – Holland Harper LLP. And, so on…

In all these cases, they know more about what they do than the people who are coming to them for help. They also know more about their jobs than we do. Publicising them, whether it is on social media, via websites, or in traditional media circles, requires the client to be involved in the genesis of the ideas. The ideal client will come to the PR professional with ideas of what they want to promote. They will have a good understanding of the market in which they work and also an understanding of what makes them stand out from their competitors.

It used to be said that the reason for the undoubted success of McDonald’s was not that it was the best eating experience, as most people wouldn’t claim that. What marked it out as different was the fact that, wherever you went in the world, it was always the same. It was this incredible level of consistency that made  the company stand out from its competitors.

As PR professionals, it is not necessarily possible for us to know what makes a client unique. Kris Ruby, in her article, uses the example of a neurosurgeon hiring a publicist. The neurosurgeon cannot possibly expect the publicist to understand what being a neurosurgeon actually means and therefore they cannot be expected to come up with interesting angles. While a client who is an accountant or an estate agent may be easier for the PR expert to empathise with, they do not really know what that job entails and so it is up to the client to give the PR person some of the ideas. They can be very small things…

Think about the McDonald’s example above, it was not the exalted quality of the dining experience that made it a success, it was something far more mundane – they delivered simple food with a high level of consistency. This even slipped this into their advertising and on New Year’s Day 2000, after all the predictions of the Millennial end of the world, McDonald’s advertised itself with a TV slot showing a man waking up from New Year’s Eve, going to his local McDonald’s, looking concerned at his Big Mac and then gratefully removing the gherkin he didn’t like. The strapline made it clear that he was thankful that some things never change – a simple advert that I have remembered 17 years later as being quite amusing.

Once the client has given the PR professional some simple ideas, it is then their job to turn that into something useful which works towards the objectives you have set up with the client. Of course, as the relationship with the client improves and their understanding of the business improves, they will find it easier. As I said last week, it is amazing what I have learnt about pests from Cleankill Pest Control.

Cleankill Pest Control is an interesting case in point. In the last few weeks they have been accredited to standards ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, received the Alcumus SafeContractor standard and been made finalists in both the British Pest Management Awards and the Gatwick Diamond Business Awards. This has allowed us to generate blogs, press releases and social media posts, all in addition to the article we created for them for trade magazine Cleaning Hygiene Today.

Now, Cleankill Pest Control is a large, long-established company that can devote time and money towards entering business award competitions. The standards they receive are directly concerned with their business and publicity is a secondary component. While it is not the job of the publicist to create business, it is the job of the publicist to create and manipulate publicity and each of these awards helps to create content which helps to keep Cleankill’s name in people’s heads. Then, when they have a pest problem, Cleankill is the company they will remember. After all, one advert I saw 17 years ago by accident for a business I never use has stuck with me.

It is impossible for most business people to help create lots of content. All clients are busy running their businesses and publicity does not always take precedence. Our clients cannot devote a morning to coming up with ideas for us to promote because they are busy professional people.

But, as I said, working with a client is a symbiotic relationship which must work around the demands that are made upon the client. When working with a client it is good to try to understand the demands that are upon them. If they are very busy, try to find ways to alleviate the task of having them come up with content. If we need facts, we email the client the information we have with the gaps we need filling

We are lucky at Blueberry PR in that we have a range of clients with a range of expertise. We work with each client in a different way in order to make the process as simple for the client as possible. The objective for both parties is always the same – gaining as much publicity for that company in as wide a range of targeted forums as is possible in the time allotted.