Dorothy Crenshaw August 26, 2011 | 12:17:10
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Should PR People Drink The Client Kool-Aid?

Recently, a senior colleague at a boutique firm was reflecting on the loss of a longtime client. She’d been active in the company’s product promotion for many years and was a tireless advocate, even among friends and family members. She confessed that she looks at their products completely differently now. What used to be leading edge now seems middling, even mediocre.

We laughed about her newly critical judgment, but it got me thinking about drinking the Kool-Aid. Direct experience with a client’s products (or services) is essential, and it’s natural to be an advocate. And if you’re on the front lines in our business, which usually means pitching media, you need to be an evangelist.

And we on the agency side usually work hard to be a member of the team. Even before we win a client, we try to learn their processes, culture, and structure. We adopt the acronyms and jargon and we strive to function as an extension of their own marketing or communications team.

But sometimes we do our job too well. A degree of objectivity is more than helpful; at times, it’s essential. We need to keep a full understanding of brand and corporate issues. We need to know what’s mere perception, and what’s reality, without blurring those lines too much. Our best, and most objective judgment, should inform our recommendations and our commitment to outcomes.

On the day-to-day front, we have to be prepared to meet objections and answer criticism. Over time, it’s too easy for that objectivity to erode. And it’s good business to keep a radar for problems – perception, product, or business- exquisitely tuned. Our credibility is only as good as that of our clients.

But most importantly, objectivity counts at the strategic level. Our relative distance from corporate influence, and our value as a two-way channel of information for clients, is one of the chief reasons clients seek outside counsel.

Believing one’s own PR can be dangerous. As much as we need to understand and advocate for our clients and their products, we can only be at our best and add real value when we exercise critical thinking, honest counsel, and objective judgment.

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