8 things you should never say to PR agency pros

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Every public relations agency executive delights in hearing from prospective clients. One great thing about the business is that you never know which award-winning campaign, career-changing relationship, or high-profile engagement might be just around the corner.

A typical part of the chase is a series of calls or meetings with client prospects who can have widely varying degrees of familiarity with the agency process, or who may not be clear (or agree) on what they want or need. They can say odd, confusing, and even exasperating things; in fact, certain comments are red flags that an experienced public relations agency exec will detect in an instant.

Here’s a list of some of our favorites.

“We’re looking for someone to grow with us.”
This is my No. 1 peeve from a prospective client. It’s understandable if the budget isn’t large; in fact, it might be a smart move to conserve funds for later (and we are happy to steer you to an excellent freelancer or boutique agency if that’s the case.) But the invitation translates to, “We can’t afford to pay fair value for your work, and even if we hire you, you’ll never be able to make money with us.” Not so appealing.

“Here’s a proposal from another agency that wasn’t right for us because it was too big/expensive/outside of our category.” This hasn’t happened often, but it’s ethically dubious, to say the least, and confusing at best. (What do you really want?)

“We need our story to be in The New York Times/TechCrunch/’Ellen’ by the time we launch.” Well, as my former client used to say to her CEO when he started down this road: “There’s one way to guarantee that. It’s called advertising.”

“For this assignment, we’re not sure if we need a PR firm or a digital marketing agency.” Hmm, well, then, neither are we. They are very different disciplines with distinct goals, and they often work in tandem, but perhaps you should review your objectives and conduct some research into each. I’d rather spend my time developing the best possible PR recommendations based on solid information than explaining what PR is or does.

“We’re not looking for formal proposals. Just give us an idea of how you’d approach our business.” I’ve heard this quite a few times but have never really understood what it means.

“How much for a press release?” Argh.

“We need a viral video!” This one needs no explanation; most PR people I know have deleted the word “viral” from their vocabularies.

[RELATED: Find out how to craft the perfect pitch at our April PR & Media Relations event in NYC.]

“We’re looking at 30 agencies and hope you’ll want to participate.” Um, maybe not. 

What comments and phrases from clients leave you seething?

Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. She has been named one of the public relations industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week. A version of this story originally appeared on her agency’s ImPRessions blog. 

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