Commentary

Why Do Some Sabotage Their Own PR Efforts?

If you are in the PR profession, it's very likely that you have experienced the following scenario: a prime client insists on micro-managing visibility campaigns to the point where it's almost impossible for us to work, or to focus on the strategy and execution of big ideas, instead of sweating the small stuff. Forget about achieving the results that are expected of us.

The PR industry is not alone in this dilemma: creatives and marketers join us in the struggle of extracting project briefs from some clients, or getting campaign details approved, or media interviews scheduled in a timely manner. And then there is the next-level challenge -- the client that consistently misses top opportunities, cherry-picking interviews and walking away from top-tier placements because they can't see the big picture -- all while grumbling about farfetched initiatives planned to avoid the next kerfuffle.

I touched on this subject in a previous post over a year ago, and it continues to baffle me today. So why do companies hire us if they want to control what we do, never fully trusting us to be the experts that they hired us as?

Which also begs the question: "How do they stay in business if they micro-manage all their external resources and consultants?" It turns out that a lot of them don't.

Hiring for All the Wrong Reasons

Companies don't sabotage their own campaigns intentionally. It usually starts off with someone in management who thinks that their ideas are well-placed and timely; their interview rejections justified and reasonable -- even if these decisions contradict strategies that have been well thought out and agreed upon. They are the CEO, after all. They have reasons and the need for hiring PR professionals, yet don't end up taking our advice.

Why? Here are a few of my thoughts on why a company so interested in preserving its own good ideas would bother to look outside its own little bubble.

1: A supreme misstep that needs isolation -- call in the professionals.

Maybe a firm doesn't know how badly it has messed up until the legal threats start coming, or there's an ugly sales dip that has shareholders riled. That's when the need to call in someone else oversteps the need to micromanage campaigns. For a while, at least...

2: Recent restructuring and little direction -- budget changes, hiring-and-firing.

An overzealous primary point of contact -- possibly a new hire, perhaps someone who's feeling pressure in their department -- starts to quell campaigns for the sake of their own bright ideas, hoping for some recognition (and possibly a pay raise). This could be ego talking, or it could be fear in a competitive environment.

3: A well-meaning higher-up -- not everyone is out to get us.

Someone in management knows what they're doing -- and recognizes that they can't do everything on their own -- but they're not in charge of dealing with the day-to-day approvals, editing, releases, and interviews. If the "smart boss" was the one you talked with daily, there wouldn't be an issue -- but sadly, they're not.

4: Power struggles -- to seek help or not to seek help?

Maybe somebody got vetoed, and you are the shining cavalry that got called in, much to their dismay. Maybe an entire department got axed, and whoever is in charge now wants to make a point that their group could have done it better. Interoffice politics will almost always affect your dealings, sometimes seriously. Watch your back here because you may be set up to fail.

Apart from firing the misbehavers and walking away, there are a number of ways to compromise (if you want to compromise, that is) when working with a client who is a PR self-saboteur:

  • Weed Out Inconsistencies When your company contact is killing ideas and media opportunities (and coming up with their own "great ideas"), try to keep campaigns consistent at the very least. You might find that the same companies that kill ideas and opportunities are extremely prolific when it comes to tossing in-house ideas around. Cohesiveness is a boon, too.
  • Increase Communication and Accountability CC, double-check, confirm, and re-confirm. When finger-pointing about missed opportunities comes up, engage in CYA mode. You want to have names of exactly who nixed what and cover your behind at all times. Accountability is critical and it'll get you to the end of your contract -- or to the end of the campaign -- without torching your own reputation. Containing sabotage is much better than having people ask: "Who is in charge of this mess?"

There is really only so much we can do for a company that is prone to consistently acting this way. There are fatal marketing mistakes lurking out there, and if the company is truly set in its ways, the mistakes will keep happening again and again. And as much as getting that retainer check was nice every month, you will be glad that the mistakes weren't on your watch. It's your reputation -- and your sanity -- on the line.

I like to think of these types of clients as horses: the ones you can steer to the water, but can never make drink. We may push and force and struggle to get things done with these companies, but in the end they will rear their heads and refuse to cooperate with us. Past experience has taught me (and my still sane team), that the struggle is almost always unsustainable and really not worth having.

Tags: commentary, pr
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1 comment about "Why Do Some Sabotage Their Own PR Efforts? ".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , September 1, 2011 at 3:01 p.m.

    It has been told to me a long time ago, that these are the clients you want to recommend to your main competition. They are usually the ones from which are the hardest to get payment and break reputations.