Believe it or not, but it is the ‘harmless’ press release, which has been the cause of much frustration, a lot of backchat between clients and PR partners, and even resignations.
Trouble, they say, always comes in small packages.
And the press release is one such ‘small package’.
I recall a client asking my account manager to drop by for a briefing session prior to a ‘major’ announcement.
The account manager went over (these were the good old days before Zoom and Covid became a part of our vocabulary)!
The client proceeded to give him a brief and asked for a press release to be drafted.
Deadline: 1 day. No written brief.
My team member called up office and spoke to another team member about getting someone to start drafting the release. An unwritten brief from the client had been shared with another team member also verbally. I am sure something must have been ‘lost in translation’ in this process.
Anyways, draft 1 of the release was shared with the client, who himself had no comments, but instead, took the release to the marketing head of the business the release was meant for.
Yes, I mentioned ‘marketing head’ and not ‘communications head’!
The marketing head made wholesale changes to the release. You see, he thought that a release is like an ad, where the client would have had complete control over where and how it was published.
Instead of trying to drill some sense into the marketing head, our client pushed it back to us and said that it would have to be re-written.
A second attempt was made. Presented to the client again. Again, it was pushed up to the marketing head and then the business head. Changes once again.
By then, my team on the account were getting desperate. How do we crack this, everyone wondered?
Translators were put on standby because the release had to be disseminated nationally. The third version was prepared and sent to the client late that evening. Mind you, we needed instant approvals because the release was scheduled for dissemination the next evening! And please do remember, that there was no written brief in the agreed to format.
The next day dawned. At 11.30am, the client called asking for more changes.
To many in my team, that was the last straw. It did not break the camel’s back but came very close.
The account manager washed her hands off the release. And the hapless account executive was almost in tears. I had no option but to step in. I spoke to first the client, and then the account manager to understand where the issues were. And I rewrote the release, which was not very different from the original draft. But I did not send it to the client. Instead, I called up the client CEO’s office and requested for 10 minutes with the CEO, which I was granted. I drove across to the client’s office and met the CEO. Showed him the release. He made one change and approved it!
This was done by 12 noon. I then sent the approved copy with the CEO’s signature and shared it with the client as well as the marketing and business heads. Their unanimous response, ‘Yes, this is what we wanted.’
I kid you not, but I could have smacked the client right then. Irrespective, the release was translated and disseminated to the media, starting with the wires. And we got great coverage the next day.
Life went on, but did anyone stop to think of what the AE and the AM would have gone through?
In fact, the AE asked for a transfer to another SBU/ another client.
Why? Because a simple thing like a written brief was never given to us.
There are a few other factors which are equally injurious to the health of any client servicing team.
‘The coverage was not good at all,’ is another!
So, you have servicing teams reaching home late after having issued any release, and they are given the first shock when they log in to the mail.
‘The coverage was pathetic’, reads the subject matter of the mail. After a few sentences of why the coverage is poor, there is a veiled threat. ‘Your firm needs to do better’.
And very smartly, this mail is marked to the whole world, including senior client leadership and senior PR firm leadership
This results in the full day going totally haywire. All the to-do lists and priorities are thrown out of the window, and much time is spent on ‘post-mortems’ – explaining why the release did not get better traction.
On one such occasion, I once again recall going to meet the client armed with a mail written three days prior to the release being disseminated. The key words in that mail which we had written to the client were, ‘We do not recommend issuing this release, because it has very little news value’.
But the firm was forced to issue the release, and the results were there for all to see.
At that meeting when I showed the client our mail recommending against the release, things got a little heated. And for one of the few times in my career, I found myself telling the client that he should start his own newspaper if he wanted to see all his ‘non news’ in print.
What is particularly galling in these situations is that the release would not have helped the client business, but helped improve the client’s share of voice, and helped her/him win a few brownie points with leadership in her/his company.
A third area which is very hazardous to health is when an account is resigned.
It happened to me twice in my career.
The first time was somewhat understandable. We had won a major assignment with India’s largest business group, which included India’s largest IT services firm. And there was no way we could have continued working for the iconic Bangalore IT Services firm, if we were to work with the large business group. So a resignation of the account was the only way out.
The second instance was when we resigned an account where the client was being very unreasonable right from the outset of the relationship. It was a large account, but there came a time when we had no choice but to resign, because no one was willing to work for the client. The client then asked for a re-pitch and invited us for it. We refused and told the client directly, that there was no point, because not one of the strategic recommendations we had made during the first innings was ever implemented. Instead, it was a press release a day, with our teams spending sleepless nights at least three times a week.
I can assure you that a majority of the teams in client servicing will bear my words out.
Unfortunately, in the desire for more business, many PR firms sacrifice the health and wellbeing of their employees taking the view that the ‘client is always right’. And of course, to protect the billing, come what may.
You know what, ‘the client is never always right’. And they need to be told so, with more pushback from the PR firm. Else we will continue to see the attrition levels we do, and more unhappy servicing teams will wait for opportunities to move on, more so to a client. Just so that they can pass on the grief they got to the PR partners they start working with!
The above instances are not a comprehensive list. There are many more health hazards lying in wait.
- Never take on an assignment without a proper brief.
- Think about business outcomes, and not massaging the client’s ego.
- Define approval processes and insist on them.
- Stand by your teams and offer them all the help they need. They require plenty.
- If you find that the client/ PR partner relationship is causing huge angst among your teams, resign the account.
- There is nothing more important than a happy, well performing team.
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