We recently talked about when it’s time to break-up with your PR agency, but now it’s time to look at when it’s time to fire a client.

We believe in partnerships and have had the opportunity of working with many of our partners for years. In any partnership – even the best ones – there’s the inevitable ups and downs. While there are obvious times to cut the relationship – legal matters, harassment, late/non-existent payments, etc. – sometimes it’s trickier to know when it’s time to pull the cord for good.

Below are those nuanced behaviors to keep an eye on. It’s worth noting that none of these are deal-breakers if they happen once or even sporadically throughout a long-term relationship. But if any or a combination of the below describe an expected and ongoing pattern from a partner, it’s time to break up for good:

  1. Tactics > strategy – a solid program has a well-defined strategy on how PR will help the client achieve specific business objectives. To know if the strategy is working, the client needs to share short and long-term business objectives as well as how PR campaigns are helping (or hurting) these goals. All too often, we hear and see clients tell the PR team to just do more – get more coverage, write more press releases (which is another issue entirely…) and/or post more on social. For the most part, these are all fine tactics, but without being given any insight on how PR tactics are making an impact on business goals, it’s a waste of everyone’s time and resources.
  2. Dismisses counsel – any agency can get results. A good agency can demonstrate a consistent batting average across clients. A great agency does all of this and lays out the strategy that shows how the program will reach and influence target audiences and support the client’s short and long-term goals. Our CEO said it best in a recent post on how to get value from PR: “When you want PR to be a mirror of your own mindset – a function that simply gives you a ‘yes’ – you miss huge opportunities to uncover a path to greater success.” If the PR team consistently offers counsel that’s ignored by the client, it’s time for the PR team to move on.
  3. Assets are not aligned with expectations – regardless of the industry, profile coverage in a household name publication is usually considered a big win. While we wish we could wave a wand and make it happen, PR needs access to a variety of individuals and assets on the client’s side in order to work with the reporter and pull this story together. Or, in order to launch a product and drive sales, the product needs to work, be available and offer the market something new. If any of these elements are missing and the client is still demanding premiere results, there’s a giant misunderstanding of how PR works and no one is set-up for success in this scenario.
  4. They’re nowhere to be found – PR teams can and should be able to work independently, but if the client consistently doesn’t return emails, calls, Slacks, whatever it may be, it’s likely not a partnership that will ever yield meaningful work from the PR team and meaningful impact for the business.
  5. It’s always a fire drill – any PR team should be able to work under pressure and roll with changing business/market needs. On the flip side, we’ve seen partnerships where every email is high-priority or known about news is dropped on the PR team at the last minute. In an ideal scenario, the PR team and client have a plan and team structure in place that keeps both teams moving toward key goals, though also enables the teams to bob and weave with changing needs. But if the PR team is in constant scramble mode and playing catch-up, it becomes increasingly difficult for the PR team to achieve meaningful results.

There’s a variety of ways to handle the above scenarios and there are times where even the best partners will show some of these behaviors. Again, that’s a part of an ongoing partnership. But if the PR team constantly finds themselves in the above situations, tries to constructively resolve them with the client and the relationship isn’t improving, it’s time to re-evaluate the longevity of the partnership.