Jules: Patron Saint of Snarky PR Ladies

I might be too honest. It’s only Wednesday and I have had to walk away from three paying clients because my gut kicked in and told me it just was not right. One was a client looking for a level of expertise in a specific area that I do not have. I could get it, but not fast enough to credibly pitch myself. I ended up directing them to an agency in their area. Someone asked why I didn’t just take the work and then hire someone with the expertise. Ummm…because that would be lying.

Another client wanted me to pitch something “innovative, revolutionary and groundbreaking” (possibly even unique) but twelve seconds on Google proved that it was none of those. “Well, just say that we are and then later we’ll explain that we were one of the first doing it.” Ummm…telling journalists something I know is exaggerated just to get them to talk to my client would be lying.

The last client expected a lot of work from me, but when I got into it, there really was not much there to do. We agreed on a set monthly fee, but I had to send an email suggesting a lower rate because I was not doing all of the work that had been originally discussed. The little devil on my shoulder was saying something about just bill it, but I couldn’t, even though I know they are going to question the entire project based on my recommendations. Billing clients for work I could do but they don’t need, even though I know there are people who would do it without a second thought, is lying.

Honesty may not pay, but dishonesty doesn’t either, so if I am going to be broke, I might as well feel good about myself. But in this new world, with so many people facing economic pressure, I wonder how we will get to a place of more transparency, not less. With Facebook secretly (well, not any more) hiring PR firms to smear competitors and male writers posing as Syrian lesbian bloggers, I am not sure that truth is everyone’s goal. Maybe it is overrated and I just need to be part of the cool crowd because everyone is doing it. Or maybe I’ll stick with following my gut. Either way, clients, be forewarned: I may not be Saint Eligious, but I will call you out on lapses in transparency faster than you can say “Snarky PR Lady.”

And call me if you have something truly innovative to pitch.

~ Jules

8 thoughts on “The Truth About PR

  1. There’s no such thing as too much honesty, Jules! I think you took the higher road for the better by not placating these potential clients. I had seen it happen too many times in my agency lifespan and it was also a point of personal contention for me. PR needs more honest folks like you 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Krista. It is really hard to balance my ideals against my shrinking paychecks. I know they will find someone else to do the work or do it themselves, so it’s not like I saved the world from another misleading pitch. Yet, I do believe every cloud has a silver lining. For example, I have had an awesome response from this post and now I get to chat with you. Thanks for stopping by.

      I still like the idea of a patron saint of PR.

  2. Jules, you did the right thing, although I can certainly appreciate the enormity and difficulty of the decision, and there’s no question that we need more ethical practitioners (like you!) and stronger, more consistent ethical behavior in the profession. My hat’s off to you here.

    Aside from the obvious lesson here about honesty, integrity, and transparency, another important takeaway is learning to trust one’s instincts, as you did, and use that as a guide for our behavior. Usually, our first reaction is the right one, so I appreciate how you listened to those instincts, and then took the appropriate action.

    As always, I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    All the best,

    1. Thanks so much, Keith. I appreciate your support.

      You know, I worry about what agencies are doing on behalf of clients simply to stay afloat. I would die if I had employees to worry about, so I guess I am lucky in that regard. I do not think I have met an unethical PR person – everyone I know is great. But, I can’t be the only one faced with these decisions. We need to lead and educate our clients rather than be led by their whims. I call myself the bossy PR lady because I tell that that they are paying me to boss them around. It’s a joke, but I work for them, but as a leader, not a follower. Telling clients “no” is harder than actually doing the work. I think I kept my name off a couple of journalists blacklists, so that’s good news.

      Glad you could visit.

  3. Fantastic blog, Jules. Couldn’t agree more.

    I couldn’t live with myself if my clients were being ripped off, I was ripping them off or they were ripping other people off. It takes guts to say no, too.

    I had to do it for a financial/banking client, something I have little knowledge about.

    Appreciate the honesty.

    1. Thank you so much, Adrian. Glad you stopped by.

      I do not think people (my clients or otherwise) are even thinking/acting from a place of dishonesty or malice. They simply want what they want and get carried away with finessing the situation to get closer to the desired outcome. They do not see that they are putting anyone in a compromising position. I try to phrase my response so they know I am helping, but of course, it just sounds like I am scolding or being negative.

      ~ Jules

  4. I think I’ve worn my “great post” openings through as each of these warrants the praise you’ve garnered, but what else is there to say?

    I recall several instances when I was called upon to develop in-house campaigns for clients in areas where I was something less than completely proficient. Not in a “false modesty” or “another subject matter expert will do the trick” sense, but in a “holy crap we’re screwed if a reasonably competent person does any kind of digging” sense. Folks argued for fumbling my way through with the bit of knowledge I did have, coasting on my broader base of expertise rather than admitting I didn’t know everything necessary to plan and successfully launch and sustain the initiatives. Heck, the clients were willing to give it a go even after I expressed doubts about my ability to see the thing through. The worst possible thing to do in that instance would have been to “just go with it”.

    PR people can’t know everything. We sometimes get a bad rep for what can appear to the untrained eye to be hucksterism or publicity-seeking devoid of a plan. Working collaboratively with other experts can salve some of the nicks and bruises we get while putting these things together. The best thing for a PR person to do (or any leader, come to it) is to lead by example, even if that leadership entails admitting not knowing stuff.

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