Three year olds are good at saying it. Nancy Reagan is good at saying it. So why do we find it so difficult to “just say no” to our clients? For most of us the answer is simple. Fear. We’re afraid that clients will go find someone who will say yes. That’s a possibility, but it’s really a small one if you can communicate why saying no is in the best interest of the client. Of course it is nice to say, “Sure, we can do that!” as often as possible, but sometimes the right thing is to say no. Here are a few of those times.
The Client Wants to Do Something That Will Damage the Brand
We are big fans of taking calculated risks in PR. In today’s crowded media landscape, brands must do unusual things to stand out. However, sometimes a client will come up with an idea that has “bad news” or “unintended consequences” written all over it. It is your responsibility to keep them from harming themselves. You should be willing to walk away from a client over this if necessary because your reputation depends on it. (Here are some campaigns you wouldn’t want your name attached to.) Of course, you don’t have to shout, “Are you nuts?” Simply offer a saner alternative.
The Client’s Priorities are Out of Whack
Sometimes we all lose sight of the big picture when something new or exciting comes along. Part of the job of a PR agency is to help keep clients focused on the larger strategy, rather than getting distracted by tactics that might seem enticing at the moment. It is a good idea to carefully document and agree on your client’s priorities from time to time so that you can refer back to that when distractions come up.
The Request is Out of Scope
A well-defined statement of work is the key to any good agency/client relationship. Sure, once in a while you might do something that means going above and beyond, but if you make a habit of it, you’ll lose money, which isn’t good for you or the client. When such request occur, simply remind your client of the SOW. If you can fulfill the request, just let them know how much more it will cost.
You Can’t do a Great Job
If a client requests something for which you don’t have the skills or resources to do work that you would proudly put your name on, you must say no. This business is all about reputation, so think of every artifact you create as a resume for your next potential client. It is much better not to create one than to have one that wouldn’t make you proud. If the request is reasonable, but you simply can’t fulfill it, help your client find a resource that can.
No is negative, by definition, of course. However, it can be a huge positive in your relationship with your clients. It helps set the boundaries that will protect your reputation and those of your clients. It ensures that your agency remains profitable enough to stay in business. You wouldn’t want a trusted adviser who said yes all the time and neither do your clients.