This blog post continues my list of 10 signs that a prospect will be a difficult client. To recap what was covered in Part 1:
I’ve been fortunate to have had some wonderful clients. I’ve also had some difficult clients – the kind that pay late, expect 24/7 availability and even yell when dissatisfied.
When I thought back to my initial encounters when these clients were prospects, I realized there were, in fact, signs that they would turn into difficult clients. The five signs covered in Part 1:
- They’re demanding of your time, starting from the initial request
- They are super-focused on price
- They’ve worked with many PR firms in the past and always had a bad experience
- They want you to start work before the contract is signed and/or first payment is received
- They don’t understand public relations and/or the proposed scope of work, and have no interest in learning
The rest of the list is below.
However, a caveat: there are exceptions to these rules. If a prospect exhibits one of these signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stop pursuing them as a client. Do proceed with caution.
They’re new to business.
I don’t mean to imply that someone launching a start-up or nonprofit will make a bad client, but it is important to clearly understand how business-savvy a prospect is before you take them on.
Here’s why: CEOs who have never run a business and/or lack general business knowledge may know nothing about how PR works and/or what it costs. They may have unrealistic expectations as to what PR can accomplish and how quickly they’ll see results, which could be a recipe for dissatisfaction a couple of months into the engagement. Also, these types of clients generally need more education and hand-holding. They could require more of your time than you’d budgeted.
Their values do not align with yours.
This may seem idealistic, but my advice is that if an organization’s values – or that of its leadership – don’t align with yours, think hard before you agree to take them on as a client. Business is business, yes; but the way you spend your time and energy day in and day out matters.
The more you can work with organizations whose missions and visions align with what you value, the happier both you and the client will be. Taking on clients whose values don’t match – or worse, oppose – your own will likely lead to a difficult working relationship.
They seem too busy to collaborate or otherwise give you the time you’ll need to do your job.
In communications, collaboration is imperative. We need information and input from our primary contacts, subject matter experts and leadership at our clients’ organizations. These lines of communication need to be always open and constantly flowing in order for us to do our jobs effectively.
It’s important to clarify this in meetings with prospects. If the prospect is under the impression that they can hire a PR professional to “work their magic” without requiring participation from anyone in the organization, a recipe for disaster is brewing. PR pros cannot work in a vacuum, and prospects who think they can will make for difficult client engagements.
They are highly unorganized.
I once attended a meeting with a prospective client whose office was a mess – boxes everywhere, sky-high stacks of paper covering every available surface, multiple coffee mugs on the desk. He was the president of the company and, being the almost OCD-level organizer that I am, I wondered how he functioned. But, I assumed he must have some kind of system going on here that I just didn’t understand.
It turns out, that system was chaos. And not the organized kind – just straight-up pandemonium. What this meant after I took this organization on as a client was late payments (invoices misplaced), regularly missed meetings (double-booked calendars) and ridiculously long wait times on project approvals (missed the first five e-mails). If the prospect seems unorganized and you can’t thrive in chaos, think hard before you take them on as a client.
Executives are not on the same page.
I’ve been in positions where the marketing director was really gung-ho about hiring a PR firm but another member of the executive team – say the CFO or COO – hadn’t bought in to the idea. I’d make my best-case pitch for how PR would help the organization and why we’d be a good fit, and sometimes the marketing director would get his or her way and hire us. A win, right? Not necessarily.
When a member of the client’s leadership team is not keen on having you on board and has no intention to accept it, it can make for an awkward, if not antagonistic, working environment. The naysayer could behave in a number of ways, from simply being unresponsive to nitpicking your work to trying to throw you under the bus – in the hopes of cancelling your contract early or not renewing when the time comes. It may sound like high school, but it happens. Take note of what kind of resistance you may face with other key members of the leadership team when you’re considering on-boarding a new client.
Have you ever encountered any of these warning signs? Have any others to share? Let us know in the comments below!