In an ideal world, all your clients would understand what you do, listen to your advice and be encouraging and appreciative of your hard work and results. But unfortunately, the reality doesn’t always match up to the dream!
Part of being a freelance PR is dealing with different personalities, client challenges and occasional hiccups, accepting these as part of the job. The most important thing is to recognise and address any problems as soon as possible, before they get out of hand. Here are some of the most common client issues faced by freelance PRs, and what you can do to keep the relationship on track:
We’ve all been there. Your client is launching a new product, which they believe is the best thing since sliced bread - worthy of at least the FT, maybe The Times, and perhaps a slot on BBC Breakfast. Your head immediately thinks, ‘no chance!’, but broaching the issue with the client isn’t so easy. You don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm, nor sell yourself short. But you don’t want to set yourself impossible targets either. So, what are your options?
Rule number one - raise your concerns as soon as possible. If you’re going for new business, discuss it then, and if it’s an existing client, at the earliest opportunity in the project. That way your client can manage expectations internally and work with you to develop an alternative approach. Be clear and honest about your reservations, while proactively suggesting how the story or campaign could be enhanced to achieve the desired results. Also use this as an opportunity to educate your client on how the media, and particularly national journalists, work and why landing coverage isn’t always as simple as sending out a press release or picking up the phone.
They don’t ‘get’ PR
When you’ve been working in PR for a few years, it can be easy to forget that most people don’t have the foggiest idea what you do, or how you do it. But even worse is when they think they know better than you, despite having no PR experience! The result is unclear or unrealistic expectations (see above!), micro-management, or requests for work outside your remit. It can leave you frustrated and struggling to keep your cool.
One way of heading this off is to put a clear plan and scope of work in place when you start a project. This will help the client to understand your remit, ensure you’re both on the same page, while also gaining their trust and confidence. Then on a day to day basis, patience is key! Try to strike a balance between standing your ground, educating your client and incorporating their suggestions as best you can, even if you don’t always agree with them. With time and patience, hopefully they’ll come around to your way of thinking.
The client that never sleeps
Then there are those clients who seem blissfully unaware that you have other work to do, and that every email, phone call and request is eating into their budget. The hours rack up on small questions and tasks, above and beyond what was agreed. Meanwhile your servicing levels are through the roof, to the detriment of your other clients, your life, and your earnings! How do you maintain your sanity?
As PR isn’t an exact science, it’s normal to have months when some clients will be busier or more demanding than others, particularly at the beginning of a project. But if the demands persist, it’s important to address the issue before it snowballs even further. A good foundation is to provide an indication of time relative to budget at the start of the project so your client knows what to expect. Then when raising any issues, be clear about the facts, such as the extent of over-servicing and the reasons behind it, being ready for any questions or queries that arise. It doesn’t have to be a negative conversation, just be honest and suggest some ways your hours can be kept under control, whether that means more budget for the extra work, stricter prioritisation, or the client taking more work in house. It can also help to put in weekly updates to keep track of activity and use online tools such as Trello so you are’n’t constantly being pulled away from your other work.
Then at the other end of the scale are the clients you can never get hold of, or who take an age to get back to you, leading to missed deadlines and opportunities, coupled with a lack of direction. This can be equally frustrating, when you have targets to hit and a plan to execute, particularly if the same client wants to know where the results are at the end of the month.
This situation usually occurs for one of two reasons. Either the client didn’t anticipate how much of their time PR would require, or they did, but unforeseen circumstances mean they now don’t have the necessary bandwidth. But whichever it is, you need to have a frank conversation as soon as possible about what can be done. To avoid the first situation, it’s also important to educate clients from the outset that to be successful, PR needs their regular input to develop campaigns, stories and comments. Then if that doesn’t work, consider if there is another person at the company who can oversee PR instead? Can they juggle their priorities around? Or can the focus be changed so it requires less of their time? If not, they’re unlikely to see the results they hired you to generate.
One of the most common, and irritating, issues freelancers face is clients quibbling over, or delaying, payment of invoices. It’s natural that invoices slip through the net occasionally, but when it’s a persistent problem, or a client is outright refusing to pay, it can lead to a serious relationship breakdown. So how should you address it?
Again, your first line of defence is getting everything down in writing at the beginning of the relationship, including the work agreed, the cost and your payment terms. It doesn’t have to be a formal contract - an email will do - but have something agreed in writing to refer back to later. Also make sure you send your invoices out promptly, with a clear payment date, and be proactive about chasing, for example seven days after the due date. Then if you still don’t have any joy, give the client a call to ask politely what’s causing the hold up. Legal action should be a last resort, but if the client continues to ignore your requests, or is refusing to pay, you can take the dispute to a small claims court. The Work Crowd can also support you with late payment issues, giving you somewhere to keep track of your past client correspondence and invoices. We also give you the option of being paid upfront into our escrow account, with the security that the money will be released when the work is completed.
Thankfully, the majority of freelancers have fantastic relationships with their clients, finding that regular, open and honest communication is the best way to avoid potential issues and nurture mutually beneficial relationships. There is also growing support available for freelancers in dealing with any problems that do arise, including communities such as The Work Crowd.
So, if you ever have any questions or concerns about client issues you’re facing, don’t hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on 0203 828 8440.