The PR relationship gravy train: snog, marry or avoid?

The PR relationship gravy train: snog, marry or avoid?

Claire Walker

Claire Walker

Falling in love:

The first throes of a relationship are full of passionate, carefree playfulness. Everything is rosy with the world and the love will last forever.

Falling out of love:

Complacency and bitterness has set in. You can’t stand the way your partner snorts or holds their cup. Every little thing about them irritates you in some little way – you just don’t know why…

Relationships can be so bittersweet

PR agencies lose 80% of their clients because of complacency or PR relationship issues. The challenge is to nip problems in the bud and have ‘difficult conversations’ as early as possible. It helps to iron out issues before the creases are too deep.

We are all human and we all make mistakes (once) whilst learning. But, the difference is between complacency and ignorance. Whilst ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law, it does infer unfamiliarity, inexperience and even innocence. This can be forgiven, especially in the early stages of a relationship.

What is not so easy to forgive is complacency; this is a much uglier word. It infers smugness, self-satisfaction, self-regard and contentment.

We keep a close eye on the team's performance and our client satisfaction levels. On the rare occasion we receive negative feedback, it is an immediate call to action; what can we do to address the issue? Where can we improve? How do we please the customer again? How do we show our love?

Sometimes it takes little more than a bunch of flowers to show that we care – but making the effort to ameliorate the problem is the first step to smoothing the relationship again.

Many of our clients have been with us for several years. One client of 12 years graciously accepted news of a departing Firefly and welcomed a new team member with thanks and enthusiasm. He thanked the departing team member for her support and dedication, and wished her well on her travels. On the new team member, he said he looked forward to “working together and clarifying any questions so we can all achieve objectives and deliver results”. The transparency, teamwork and shared appreciation between the client and the agency is the oil that keeps the machinery working at optimum speed and performance.

Many clients come back to us time and again, taking Firefly with them as they develop their careers. We’d like to think that our efforts have helped them along the way. If they are treated well, listened to, and enjoy a good and productive relationship, there is no reason why the union should not run and run.

So, what are the common relationship breakdowns and how can they be solved?

Dear Deidre: My relationship is going sour. How can I avoid the dreaded ‘C’ word (Complacency) setting in?

  1. Dear Deidre: My partner is getting sloppy and neglecting the small details

The problem: The agency is neglecting me. The team continually sends copy with errors and it means they have forgotten about the small details. They used to be so good at giving me that extra special attention in the first few months, but now I feel they have somebody else on their mind.

Deidre says: Oh dear, it does sound like complacency is setting in. I suggest that this relationship needs some time out. Not a separation, just a time to readjust. I suggest that the agency retrains some of the team and concentrates on improving the small things, like the writing standards. Introduce internal checks and balances or insist they hire a freelance journalist to proof-read the copy. If all else fails, give them the three-strikes-and-you’re-out ultimatum to see how that focuses their minds. After all, sometimes they need reminding that there are other fish in the sea!

  1. Dear Deidre: I think our relationship is getting stale

The problem: Our relationship is like a dreary date in a burger bar – there has been little or no thinking put into the planning recently. I need to be surprised, delighted, and swept off my feet occasionally. How do I get that special feeling back again, with new angles, insights or attention-grabbing opportunities?

Deidre says: Yes, it sounds like your relationship needs a dose of sparkle. Can I suggest getting a third-party involved? Ask your partner to get other team members to add creativity to your thinking or ask for somebody else to look at a plan before it comes across to you. Get somebody to provide a critical eye and ask ‘what can be improved?’ or see how ‘small ideas’ can be turned into ‘big ideas’. Cultivate nightmare scenarios – or the ‘what if?’ situations – to see if that sparks some ingenuity.

  1. Dear Deidre: We’re stuck in a rut. How do we get out of it?

The problem: The relationship is just not improving. It is as though “we do it this way because this is the way we always do it.” Does it have to be this way?

Deidre says: It sounds like you have reached the point where you have to grab your partner by the lapels and ask: “How could we do this ten times better?” Set your partner an outrageous goal or ask “how can we move this from good to amazing?”  It may take them out of their comfort zone, but sometimes we need to challenge people in order to make them better. If it ain’t broke, then consider breaking it, to gain a fresh perspective on how it should fit together.

  1. Dear Deidre: My partner lacks ambition.

The problem: The agency seems to have settled for what they have. They are not prepared to consider ideas that might be risky, but will ultimately reap rewards. I'm not ready for ‘good enough’ in this relationship.

Deidre says: If your partner thinks they have ticked all the boxes, they had better think again! Ask them: “What other boxes should you be ticking?” Investigate how new tactics or technology could “alter our situation for better or worse.” Benchmark against someone entirely different, especially if your present benchmark comparison merely reinforces your certainty.

The reality is that relationships will always hit a sticky spot; at that point, both sides need to decide if they want to just snog, marry or avoid. If the partnership is to last, it requires effort from both parties to turn the situation around. If there is no hope, then it’s time to move on. Hold your head up high, treat everyone with dignity and remember, it’s a small industry. What goes around may come around and you may meet your ex again one day – and you know how awkward that can get…


(Editor’s note: The author has no existing relationship grievances, all scenarios are purely hypothetical)


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