The client-consultant relationship is never easy

It takes all types to make this world and the world of client-consultant is no different. I was fortunate during my eight years of being a consultant that I had vey kind and intelligent clients. Every one of them – from Manisha Awasthi, Rashi Bhimani, Shalini Kuila, Madhavi Trivdei, Paresh Chaudhry, Herjit Bhalla, Siddharth Banerjee, Asha Albert and many more. But I don’t think everyone has it as easy as I did. There are some very difficult humans who end up as clients and this is for them. It is also likely that the client of that ‘difficult variety’ may not be reading this so please share it with him or her. I was also a client briefly to Mariam, Alisha and Sarah and I, to the best of my knowledge, if my ten-year-old memory serves me right, never looked at them as different from me.

So, here is a letter to the client who is difficult, incompetent or just plain crazy 🙂

These are ten points that most professionals who have had to deal with a difficult client may relate to. This also a primer for those who will become clients in the future or are transitioning from a consultancy job to an in-house role.

  1. The client-consultancy relationships are always of equals and of mutual respect. Please do not think otherwise.
  2. PR firms are consultancies and not agencies, hence the expectations are to be mapped differently. An agency typically gets the job done and works on commissions. In PR, the media relations aspect is not in the hands of the PR consultant. He or she does not work on commissions but on a retainer or project fee similar to law firms or management consultants firms.
  3. Public Relations is not about media releases. It is much more. It is every touchpoint with a stakeholder using strategic storytelling and comprises content, connect, counsel and crisis management. So empower the consultant to the best possible extent and do not treat them like mere hands and legs. If they are not of high calibre, increase the retainer and demand that the best are hired to be on your business.
  4. Public Relations is not about covering up or fixing or wheeling and dealing. It is about working towards creating Goodwill, Respect, Engagement, Affinity and Trust in order to building GREAT reputation. So do not ask the consulting firm to clean-up after you.
  5. Journalists cannot be bombarded with information that we think is news. They appreciate relevant information that they can use when they are planning a story or when reasonably pitched to. So, do not treat the consultancy like a media release generating machine and then expect coverage at the drop of a hat.
  6. Times change, life is a cycle. Let us never forget that. Today’s client could be in a consultancy tomorrow but more often today’s consultant could be a client tomorrow. So kindly be respectful and professional.
  7. The client is not necessarily always right, and it takes humility in accepting this truth. Stay grounded.
  8. Invest in training of your consultants as well, the way you do for your own team members. It pays off eventually. They are your extended team.
  9. Do not look at Public Relations through the same lens you look at advertising. The similarity ends at the fact that both need creativity. They are like chalk and cheese.
  10. Lastly, everything can be kept simple and everything is made by human beings with complex minds and great ideas. So do not encourage complicated processes and politicking ever.

This column was inspired by numerous stories one hears of good and bad clients. Please take it in the right spirit.

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Amith Prabhu
Amith Prabhu is the Founder of the PRomise Foundation which organises PRAXIS, India’s annual summit of reputation management professionals.

He is also the Founding Dean of the School of Communications & Reputation (SCoRe).

He can be reached at @amithpr on twitter.

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