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Navigating the fine line: Balancing client expectations & PR integrity

by | Apr 29, 2024 | Public Relations

When it comes to the development of the perfect PR strategy that marries creativity and client expectations, many public relations professionals often find themselves walking a tightrope. A recent experience at Issa PR, a global luxury and lifestyle brand strategy, and marketing agency, serves as a cautionary tale, shedding light on the challenges of reconciling client desires with the fundamental principles of effective public relations. PR Week reported that there were £131 billion in late payments in 2022—but what happens when a client doesn’t pay for all the work conducted?

Being the CEO of an international PR powerhouse with teams in New York, London and Los Angeles, I have over 20 years of experience in navigating a large spectrum of client expectations and bringing groundbreaking, visionary PR campaigns to life. Issa PR’s work with a recent client was another opportunity for the agency to brainstorm and execute innovative, and authentic PR activations that meet and exceed the client’s business targets. With decades of global luxury experience, the team developed a campaign that would target and effectively recruit High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs). 

We executed an Art Basel campaign giving away a Ferrari. People would have to register with the client directly to enter a raffle to win a Ferrari for a day. We strongly advised keeping the sign-up process as simple as possible in order to drive engagement to exceed their goal of new recruits. The client insisted on adding “no strings attached” to the sweepstake copy, meaning that participants do not have to do anything to win. The client also created a complicated system of email confirmations and complex passwords that would take place in the middle of the Art Basel event. About half of the sign-ups were lost because of the process, which went directly against our recommendations.  

The missed opportunity here lies in the failure to recognize the power of simplicity

Insisting on complex engagement mechanisms during Art Basel highlights the issue of losing sight of audience needs and preferences. In an era where user experience reigns supreme, PR campaigns must seamlessly integrate with the target demographic’s lifestyle. Trust is also the cornerstone of any successful client/agency collaboration. The client’s reluctance to heed the advice of its appointed agency not only resulted in a less-than-optimal campaign but also highlighted a broader issue—the need for clients to trust their chosen PR professionals.  

Effective communication strategies are crafted by experts who understand the nuances of engagement, audience dynamics, and the ever-evolving media landscape. Trusting the agency to navigate these complexities is essential. In this case, a foundation of trust would have allowed Issa PR to implement streamlined, effective strategies that not only align with the client’s goals but also resonate seamlessly with the target audience. As an industry, fostering a culture of trust ensures that the client’s expectations are met with strategic expertise, transforming a client’s vision into a PR masterpiece.  

The barriers set up by the client didn’t just hinder the success of the campaigns, it also left the agency in a precarious position, unpaid for our efforts, and agency expenses they asked us to cover. Their rationale behind this decision was that their desired metrics had not been reached. However, throughout our partnership, they refused to follow Issa PR’s strategy and professional recommendations, redesigning every part of our campaign to what they thought would work best.  

Working with trusting clients allows PR professionals to create and then execute effective strategies. We believe in the following roadmap:

1. Aligning messaging & action

The first step in any successful PR campaign is to ensure alignment between messaging and action. A “no strings attached” promise should be mirrored in the simplicity of the sign-up process. 

2. Understanding the audience

Know your audience intimately. Art Basel attendees were looking for a quick and easy sign-up process amidst the hustle and bustle of the event. Tailoring strategies to match audience lifestyles is non-negotiable. 

3. Strategic timing for user actions

Timing is an often underestimated factor. Suggesting that users create passwords at a computer at home rather than on the spot at the event is a strategic move that respects the audience’s context and increases participation. 

4. Streamlining confirmation processes

Simplicity extends to the confirmation process. A cumbersome double email confirmation mechanism will increase drop-offs. Streamlining this process ensures a smoother journey from interest to confirmation. 

The repercussions of this case extend beyond a single agency-client relationship; they offer valuable insights for the entire PR industry

As communication professionals, our responsibility goes beyond executing client requests—we are guardians of the brand-consumer relationship. The refusal to follow professional advice resulted not only in an unsuccessful campaign but also in a strained client-agency dynamic. The situation is also a reminder that while innovation is crucial, it should serve to enhance user experience, not complicate it. 

As professionals, we must be steadfast in our commitment to authenticity, simplicity, and strategies that respect the audience’s journey. Furthermore, we cannot forget that trust is the currency of effective communication. PR professionals must foster trust not only with the audience but also within client relationships. Their decision not to compensate the agency for its efforts raises questions about ethical practices within the industry. A commitment to transparency and fairness is vital for long-term success. PR isn’t about just creating noise. It is about fostering meaningful and lasting connections, and experiences.  

Viet N'Guyen
Viet N’Guyen is the founder and CEO of Issa PR, a luxury and lifestyle brand strategy, and public relations agency. The dynamic leader & strategist with over 20 years experience built the luxury & lifestyle division for Edelman, #1 agency in the world.

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