4 tips for pushing back against a client’s request

Has a client ever proposed a poorly conceived campaign or asked you to request an unnecessary correction? Here’s a primer to saying no—or at least meeting half way.

Having the “push back” conversation with your client or senior management team is never a pleasant situation.

Depending on your position and experience in the PR industry, it can be difficult to go toe-to-toe over a contentious issue, especially one that could result in an ugly headline. Long-held beliefs combined with low understanding of the power of the media can make your job difficult when the need to push back arises.

Just ask Beyoncé’s publicist. Her request to BuzzFeed to remove “unflattering photos” of the singer’s Super Bowl performance was likely not her idea. Imagine trying to tell the pop superstar and Jay-Z, “Uh, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

One can only imagine the withering glare.

The result was the glaring headline, “The pictures Beyoncé’s publicist doesn’t want you to see!”

Clearly, this is a worst-case scenario for any PR pro. In spite of our best efforts, sometimes we let our clients dictate recourse that defies best practices.

“We’ve all had clients who fell in love with their own advice or disagreed with our direction,” said Karen Swim, president of Words for Hire, a PR and marketing communications company.

“In these situations, it is critical to remember you were hired for your specialized expertise, she explained. “You owe it to yourself and your client to confidently advocate in their best interest even when the client disagrees with you.”

Swim continued: “Many conflicts can be navigated by reminding the client that your interests are aligned—bad advice, or a dumb move, will not only jeopardize your relationship with the client, but can damage your reputation in the industry.”

Here are some tried and true ways of pushing back:

1. Emphasize best practices. Creating context and reason for PR best practices is a good way to start. You are privy to the “inside baseball” strategy of our industry; this gives you the opportunity to share that. Find concrete examples to underline your point. Whether they are industry-specific or not, examples can be a powerful tool— especially if they involve a nasty, screaming headline.

2. Build relationships. This is the building block of any crunchy conversation. Creating a respectful, professional relationship before you need to go toe-to-toe is half the battle.

3. Share the pros and cons. Create a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) chart. Showing you’ve thought through possible scenarios is key to a convincing argument.

4. Meet half way.
You don’t want to create animosity with your client or colleague, in which case you may find yourself in a position to compromise on the course of action. But as Jodi Echakowtiz, CEO, Echo Communications notes, you always need to protect your client’s interests, especially when it comes to making a call to a reporter.

“I will push back when a client wants a correction made because they don’t like the direction an article took, or when they feel something they’ve said has been taken out of context,” she explained. “Rather than put my client’s relationship with the reporter at risk—knowing that this is the type of change they won’t make—I may recommend that they comment on the article or share their perspectives in a post on their company blog.”

Do you have any other tips to add?

RELATED: The dos and don’ts of breaking up with a client

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