Lost in Translation? What a Client Says/What it Really Means

At our New York PR agency, we sometimes wish for some kind of client translation software to confirm that what we heard is what was actually meant. For example, we’re working on a proposal for a prospective client who told us, “don’t work too hard on it, we just want to see some sample ideas.”

Now, what does that really mean? If we offer a single page of “thought-starters,” will that suffice? Or is it like when a hostess says “no gifts” and everyone but you ignores her request and actually brings something?

With that in mind, have a look at some actual client comments and our “translations.”

“I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” What it usually really means is “I have no idea what I want and I probably won’t like what you do.” Seasoned PR pros may also infer, “and I will tear apart everything you ever present.” Try to get more direction, preferably in writing, and proceed with caution.

“I’m just a start-up, I can’t afford much now, but as we grow, we will increase our budgets.” Often said by prospects and clients who are trying to win your sympathy so that you will charge less. But, services have a price. Would they dine in a restaurant and expect to pay less because they’re a newer company?

The close relative of this comment: “We have no budget in mind, you tell us.” This usually translates as we have “no budget,” period, and want some work on the cheap. The smartest move is to set your minimum retainer in a meeting ahead of preparing a detailed proposal so as not to surprise the recipient and take you nowhere.

“My nephew/wife/friend does PR.” This may be a set-up for all kinds of critiques of your work by someone who perhaps did local PR for the PTA (not that there is anything wrong with that) but telling you about this other relationship may act as subterfuge and undermine everything from your fee to your writing and your campaign results.

“I absolutely must have this by 4:00 p.m.” This statement is usually made at 3:00 p.m. by a client with less than perfect planning skills. And if you’re good at your job, the client knows they can count on you again and again to get them out of a jam. This is not a bad thing if it’s occasional and in the spirit of partnership; otherwise, think twice about setting and repeating the precedent.

“Let’s have a short meeting.” The sin of the meandering, unstructured meeting can be be committed by anyone, but you can prevent it! Take smart steps early in the relationship to use an agenda, Outlook calendar and other tools to structure meetings and get the most out of everyone’s time.