You may have heard the expression popular among boat owners: “The two best days of being a boat owner are the day you buy it and the day you sell it.”
Others could use a similar expression. Like those who have purchased a vacation home they never have time to enjoy, or that convertible as a full-time car (if you drive in New England). I’ve heard some hackers on the golf course say the same about their Titleist blades.
A variation occurs in the PR agency world when a new client turns out to be everything the agency hoped they wouldn’t be—when those “two best days” are the day the agency wins the client’s business and the day the agency fires that client.
A boat. A second home. A roadster to die for. That shiny new client. All seemed like great ideas at the time. All looked wonderful from the outside. Then the honeymoon ends—and you’re in it for real.
Life lessons come through trial and error. Though we might try to not repeat mistakes over and over (there’s a definition for this behavior
), we sometimes do.
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Unlike the regretful boat owner—who is typically one and done—PR agencies have histories of chasing bad client after bad client, deluding themselves that this time they will “control” the relationship and not let the client run roughshod over them.
What do I mean by “bad” client? Well they come in many shapes, sizes, and guises.
There’s the client whose initial budget is below the agency’s minimum monthly retainer but who promises that the budget will increase after the first three months or when the next round of funding comes in. Three months come and go, and another three months come and go…
There’s the know-it-all client who has never worked with a PR agency before but has skimmed the Public Relations for Dummies Cheat Sheet
, which has a section titled, “Convincing Editors to Print Your Press Release.” Seriously. This client knows just enough about PR to be dangerous but doesn’t make the distinction between an article written by an actual journalist and a news release replayed verbatim on one of those free press release websites.
Of course, there’s the client working at his third startup, the first two of which had successful exits and were media darlings and who is demanding the same level of media interest for his also-ran entry into the dying market du jour
Finally, there’s the worst client type of all: the one who hires you and then disappears, expecting the PR program will run smoothly without his or her having to pay attention to it now that a firm has been hired. This type makes a living of hiring and firing agencies; it’s a job protection ploy. They blow off weekly check-in meetings and rarely return phone calls or email pleas for information, but are fast to get in your face when their company is left out of a story.
They are, however, happy to take credit for any positive results the agency does manage to generate. When that happens, it’s time to sell the boat. Don’t you think?
A version of this story first appeared on the author's blog, What It Takes.