Client Communication Demands Honesty, Transparency

This blog is the second in a series of three on ethics, post PRSSA Conference presentation at Central Michigan University.  While the previous entry examined ethics with colleagues, this time we look at client interaction. How do you work with clients and vice versa?

At Tanner Friedman, we communicate with all of our clients with total transparency at all times.  It starts with mutual respect on both sides of the table and forming a business relationship aimed at shared goals, successes and building trust. The collaboration must make sense for both parties. For example, does the scope of a particular engagement require a monthly retainer, or, does a project fee make more sense? In the end, it’s about client and PR firm feeling good about time and dollars spent and bottom line results.

Honesty should start from the very first phone call with a potential client. We will not take on a new client that competes with an existing one. If there is any question, we notify both the current and potential client of each other and let them make the final decision. I know of one firm who once worked with three different, competing retailers – two located on the same street just a block or so away! When this firm held an agency open house, the three met. Soon after, all were looking for a new PR firm.

Over the course of a particular engagement, there are many areas where an unethical PR firm has been known to stray.  One is in tracking time. Some firms have been known to (and been sued for) padding their time. We are aware of firms who will routinely call for extra client meetings and then take several individuals along, when one or two would suffice.  Moreover, account leads, mindful that their client will look over time breakouts but knowing they spent little or no time on the account, will delete a colleague’s name from a particular task listing and replace it with their own (or just add in phantom time).

And then there is the inevitable client transition and how that is handled (or not, appropriately). A firm that tells a non-profit client who needs to cut hours for budgetary reasons they will not be guaranteed the same team. Another berates clients when they choose to move on. I know of one case in fact where a company CEO was threatened with board action by a PR firm partner. Later, when this same PR firm was pitching another company, guess who the decision maker served on a committee with? Yep. The CEO of the previous company. Next time: media.