3 ways PR pros can break up with clients

If you can no longer work with a troublesome client, it’s time to cut the cord and move on. Here’s how you can do it without burning your bridges.

Everyone talks about “cultural fit” when hiring a new employee, but most PR firms don’t consider this when it comes to their clients.

They should.

We’ve all worked with clients we don’t love. Often, we tolerate each other, finding ways to work together effectively. However, when a client relationship goes beyond the point of functioning effectively, end the relationship for both the client’s sake and your own.

Breaking up with a client can be tough financially, but when a client is abusive, rude, abrasive or non-responsive, the financial hardship can be better to deal with than the emotional roller coaster your whole team is put through.

Ending things can also be hard, but it’s best to end toxic relationships professionally to avoid burning bridges. That way, your former client can walk away feeling that you’re acting in his or her best interest.

How do you let a client go without them knowing they’re driving you to drink? Here are three tips to follow:

1. Take the high ground. Put the relationship in “help me, help you” terms.

You might want to confess, “You’re not my only client. I don’t have time to respond to 10 phone calls every day to talk about ideas on which you won’t follow through,” or, “I have media interviews booked but you’re not taking it seriously—you stood up the same reporter twice?”

However, it’s best to bite your tongue and not bring up the past. Save your breath. Most clients who don’t hold up their end of the relationship aren’t going to hear you out—and if they do, they won’t accept responsibility.

Instead, make them feel like you’re making the decision to help them. Let them know you understand their busy schedule isn’t allowing them to make the most out of your relationship and you don’t want to waste their money or anyone’s time.

Maybe their expectations of being on the cover of Forbes or Vogue are too far from being met—ever (we’ve all had those). Tell troublesome clients that you’re letting them go to save them time, headaches and money.

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2. Be honest. If a client’s expectations were too far from reality, explain that the outlets he or she wants coverage in aren’t interested in the product or service. If a client isn’t interested in interviews with smaller publishers to build brand awareness and a groundswell of coverage, suggest that they reconsider the approach before they retain another agency.

Suggest to clients that weren’t responsive to emails, calls and requests from your team—which made it hard to close media coverage—that they assign a specific person to interacting with their new agency. This will help them avoid future opportunities.

Ultimately leave clients with good advice and send them on their way without letting the conversation get emotional.

3. End the relationship with class. Make sure the handover is awesome and professional.

Give clients proper hard and digital copies of final reports, project statuses and digital assets. Let them know that it is everything they can expect from you and wish them well.

This way, they feel taken care of and know to not come knocking on your door for future help and advice—especially when they realize that you gave them smart advice, but they chose to ignore it.

Breaking up with a client is never easy.

However, for your sanity, your media relationships and the sake of your team, it’s sometimes necessary. What you have to offer is valuable, and clients should treat it as such in order for PR pros to get the kudos we deserve.

Nicole Rodrigues is the founder and CEO of the NRPR Group.

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