Importance of clarity meetings to avoid future disputes

In every form that we fill and sign, may it be for mutual funds, insurance, telephone / internet connection, international visas and so on, there’s a big list of ‘Disclaimers’ and ‘Terms & Conditions’ which most of us conveniently miss to read. Fact remains that people generally don’t have the time to go through all of these in the midst of various responsibilities on the personal and professional fronts; and they trust the entities that they are applying to. This is what gives many an organisation an upper hand when it comes to denying something…product, document, claim etc. That’s the time they cite clause nos. x, y, z and so on to justify the denial.

Disputes in Client Consultancy Repationships

The PR community too is not immune to disputes on account of lack of clarity between clients and consultancies on various aspects of the relationship. Let’s take a few very commonly occurring scenarios…

Scenario I

Client: See I have a branch launch happening in Raipur early next month, and I really need some good PR around it.

Consultancy: Sure Sir…let me come back to with a proposal by the end of the day today.

Client: What proposal? This is part of your responsibility.

Consultancy: No Sir…we do not have an office in Raipur, and we’ll need to engage a stringer there. The stringer cost will have to be borne by you on actuals.

Client: But in your pitch you mentioned that you are a national consultancy with nationwide reach. Then why this extra cost to us?

Consultancy: That’s true Sir…but the mandate is for servicing you from eight Tier I cities that we have our own offices and manpower in. It’s clearly mentioned in our contract.

Client: Contract and all I don’t know. You guys should do this without any cost. For my last press release also, you guys didn’t get me any decent coverage from these eight centres that you are talking about.

Consultancy: Sir but the stringer cost will have to be borne by you, as Raipur does not fall within the purview of our contract.

Client: You are now putting me in a real fix…think I will have to revisit the contract.

Thus begins the dispute.

Scenario II

Client: What is this INR 1,416/- electronic media tracking invoice that you have sent across alongwith your retainership invoice?

Consultancy: Sir this is for tracking of the electronic media coverages of the seminar that happened last month.

Client: But tracking is your responsibility. You are our designated PR consultancy and it’s your job to get us all the coverages. This should be within what we are paying you as retainer.

Consultancy: But Sir, electronic media tracking is outsourced and not undertaken by us internally. It’s a third party expense and is billable to the client. It’s clearly mentioned in our agreement.

Client: C’mon guys…you cannot be charging me for something as basic as coverage tracking, and that too over and above the huge retainer that I am paying you.

Dispute!!!

Clarity is a Must

Many client representatives don’t really read through the contract clauses. The urgency is generally from the consultancy’s side. For the client, the contract signing is more of a ‘wait & watch’…an apprehension of whether it will work or not; whereas for a consultancy, a client getting signed is a win.

One good thing about client and consultancy relationships is that there is no intention from either side to be unfair to each other. Clients want to help their respective consultancies deliver good PR for them; and consultancies want to thrill their clients with some really good work.

Yet disputes, both small and big, happen.

So what are those few things that a PR consultancy needs to clarify with a prospect, who would soon be a client, in order to avoid disputes during the relationship?

The ‘Clarity Meeting’

Once the contract draft is ready and agreed upon, the consultancy needs to proactively call for a ‘clarity meeting’. In addition to the consultancy representatives, this meeting needs to be attended by the points of contact at the would-be client’s end, and representatives from their Purchase / Procurement, Legal and Finance departments.

The purpose of this meeting is to go through all the contract clauses face-to-face (after due approval on e-mail) with all the stakeholders involved, and explain various elements from a PR perspective.

For the Purchase / Procurement and Finance representatives at the client’s end, a PR firm is generally a ‘vendor’ or ‘supplier’ with a credit period or 60 or 90 days. It needs to be explained and reiterated to them that the consultancy is a ‘Partner’ who needs to be paid within the timeframe mentioned in the contract.

Contract inclusions and exclusions should be clearly depicted and put forth to all stakeholders. What the retainership fee INCLUDES and what it DOES NOT INCLUDE should be made very clear.

Also it’s a fact that several company representatives, who come in contact with the PR firm, are confused between Advertising and PR. For them a press release is ‘material’ that has to come out in the media, like ‘ad materials’ do. They need to be patiently educated about the fact that an ad campaign can be a good one, average one or a bad one…and so can be a Press Release. But irrespective of whether it’s good, average or bad, an ad will definitely make it to the media spaces that have been paid for it, unless of course there is some derogatory or immoral content in it. But it’s not so for a Press Release. Many a time a well-written and customised Press Release makes it to a good media as a small snippet, or doesn’t make it at all.

In a Nutshell…

Once this ‘clarity meeting’ happens, both client and consultancy representatives will start understanding each other and each other’s jobs and roles better; thus allaying any scope for disputes in the soon-to-start relationship. This is something no amount of e-mail correspondences and / or phone calls will be able to achieve.

 


The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Vijay Shekhar
Vice President at Concept Public Relations
With over 20 years of experience as a communications professional, Vijay has always been on the
agency side of the table and has worked on a wide slate of accounts spanning across sectors.
He holds a B. Com and an MBA (Human Resources) from the University of Pune.
Vijay enjoys reading autobiographies and biographies, and also short stories,
his favourite authors being R. K. Narayan, Munshi Premchand, Leo Tolstoy and Guy de Maupassant.
Vijay also has a hobby of collecting news clippings (from newspapers and magazines) of important
events across the globe…events that can be truly classified as ‘Breaking News’ or ‘Front Page News’.

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