Unruly clients

I friend of mine from another forum posted this question a few days ago. Though I did reply to her in the best possible manner, it might be a good idea to take this forum’s views on it. It’s a painfully common issue and I’m sure all of you have something to offer. Here’s a question on unruly clients — What do you do when a client doesn’t return phone calls, approve materials, or get what you need to do your job? There’s no fool proof method to tackle such clients, so just share your views freely. Share experiences that’ve worked and those that backfired. I’m looking forward to some great learnings from the combined intelligence of this forum.



18 comments on “Unruly clients

  1. Hi,

    I agree with Oaindrila on engaging the client through e-mails for media opportunities, sharing industry and competitor updates as well as sending media or business advisories.

    Another method of gaining maximum media mileage for the client would be to utilize the available content from the Q & A response bank, whitepapers, byline articles, past insights from the media interviews.

    To give an example, I was servicing an MNC account based out of U.S which did not have spokespeople for India, it also followed stringent methodologies for all media communications which resulted in missed opportunities. However in order to keep the momentum going we engaged with the media using byline articles, whitepapers and customer case studies. These tools helped us to meet the objective of creating awareness about the company.

    Best Regards,
    Richa Seth
    PR Consultant
    Mob: 9930143531

  2. Just go the client’s office and get work done.
    Client response also depends on your relationship with him/her.
    Delaying response could be an indication of the client not caring about your query/work. It could indicate that the client is looking for some other agency/consultant.

    All communication lines should be made clear at the time of signing the contract and stressed during the process of induction.


    Thanks & Regards
    BNK 24×7
    Hand phones:
    GSM – 98201 28332
    CDMA – 93200 48332
    Land phone: 022-40558914

  3. We are here to do PR for our clients, not for the blame game. If something goes wrong in terms of PR/Media Coverage/meetings PR people are there to take the blame. But, at the same time we need to understand who is actually responsible for this…. Sometime PR people and sometime client. Who will be responsible for this??? Bole to Billi ke gale mai ghanti kon baandhega aur yahan billi kon hai????

    Vikas Kumar
    +91 9811054648

  4. Be equipped with everything and find other sources too other than corp com or mktg team.

    I make an excel sheet of :

    opportunities shared by us
    opportunities missed by us

    timeliness missed by them
    Information shared by them etc,,,,

    and send it to the client with mails attached at the end of the month. We were working but you were sleeping….. or sometimes we were sleeping too.

    Nikhil Kashyap

  5. Great inputs, Richa. Though some of them can work for Indian clients as well, but for most, it may not be that easy. Q&As will still require several questions to be answered, you’ll have to modify a few and resend for approval, which will never come. In a nutshell, you’re home with quite a few hurdles.

    Oaindrila, reminder mails, at most, will establish that the client is at fault. But the client will still sack the agency saying that even if its my fault, no work has happened, and the agency should not be paid. Add to that, he’ll go a step further and rationalise that why have an agency at all, as he himself doen’t have time for PR and hence no point in having a PR agency. Send as many reminder mails and put as much of blames on the client, but at the end of it the bottomline is that you lose the client.

    Are there any tactics — subtle or upfront — that any of you have employed to tackle these type of clients. I’m sure there’s no fool-proof formula to tackle them. And with some, nothing at all will work and you may still lose the client. But not before trying everything we can.

    So share your experiences and wild shots on how to constructively tackle unruly clients. For starters, here’s what my reply was to my friend when this topic had come up —

    Unruly clients are as common as they can be, but there’s no fool proof method to tackle them. You’re torn between keeping the business, crossing the line and creating a make-or-break situation. So here’s what I do. For starters, keep at it. Be as insistent and methodical as you can be. Don’t forget to flag it up internally, so your superiors know the trouble you’re going through. Next, ask for a review meeting with the client and bring up all the pending stuff. Point out opportunities missed due to client’s inattentiveness. It works a lot of times. If it does, suggest weekly / fortnightly meetings just for this purpose. Another tack is to flag up the situation with the client’s superiors. But maintain extreme caution when doing this. If that too doesn’t work, then you’ve no choice but to be upfront, bring up the issue and show your helplessness in doing your job. However, if this too doesn’t work, then make sure all your monies are collected on time. That client won’t stay for long.

    Aarif Malik
    Mumbai. INDIA.
    Cell: +91 9833934002

  6. Hi Aarif,

    This is a common problem that we all face at some point or another. And the best part is that these are the clients who cry about un-met deliverables the most!!!

    The best way I have found to deal with such situations is –
    Have regular meetings and reviews to highlight the areas where you need their feedback – Fix a time for a weekly work-in-progress meeting/call
    Flood their mail boxes with daily update on pending activities / documents from their side
    Flood their mail boxes with missed opportunities – keep getting media opportunities even if you know they will not respond to it given their record. At the end of the day they should not have the opportunity to say that you were not proactive.
    Keep your seniors in the loop so that they can elevate the matter at the right time. Meaning if the PR representative is not responsive, maybe the matter needs to be taken to the next level in their organisation.
    Trust me, these come right from the heart as I am currently stuck with 4 clients who are like this.

    All the best!

  7. Good practice Nikhil. Very few people have the courage to make such analysis and sharing with client too.

    Vikas Kumar
    +91 9811054648

  8. nikhil

    i did the same to one onf my clients and her reply to me was “you dont
    knw how to treat your client. you are so rude. how u cud send such
    kind iof mail to me…so what if i missed the opportunity..this is ur
    job to get the commited articles…”

    nw tell what can be done with such stupid clients..


  9. Hi,

    Well I was watching loads of feedback on the subject below. And found that many professionals have commented and gave their valuable tips to tame an unruly client. Over and above all seems to be realistic and out of the box but none from this discussion tried to understand why a client in particular in behaving in such a manner.

    I know both Bakul and Aarif with their vast experience and understanding of the profession knows that at times a client needs to follow certain organizational guidelines which on the very first hand is difficult for them to share with outside partners. They might also believe that certain PR plans needs to be tweaked a little to make it award winning.

    I don’t appriate the idea what Priyadarshini said ”flood their mail box with junk mails”. Please understand that such acts will irritate your client the most.

    So according to me, the crux to tame an unruly client is to understand the psychology of your client and his business. Remember, a client always wants its agency by their side. But they also feels that you are being hired to do your job. Irritating a client won’t suffice your problem but will add more to it.

    So regular meetings, developing personal rapport, providing them with quality market inputs (including competitors), making them understand that your being hired by them as you are the best in the industry is what one should adhere to attain trust and faith of a client.

    These can only be attained through experience and understanding of your clients. Hope you’ll agree to it.

    Any valuable inputs is welcome and appreciated.


  10. Very interesting thread.

    One core thing which needs to be addressed is to understand that the ‘client’ is a very complex organism. Unlike ‘We’ agency folks; losing one client would make a difference to our sweepstakes; but for that ‘one big’ activity not working can lead to a series of heads to roll including the corp comm heads we usually interact with. The marketing team and the corporate strategy team are all part of the firms decision making engine.

    At those levels of insecurity are much much higher…Failure is a excruciatingly costly.

    So do we really invest time to really understand the clients business?

    Sorry to say we in India are becoming a desktop/laptop/google searching consultants now saying ‘clients are unruly’.

    Many a times we tend to ignore the needs for eg the marketing department.The minute you push a PR exe’s/deputy managers comfort zone which stretches beyond traditional media relations or making ppt’s-Voila, they suddenly feel “No one told us to do this as part of PR”.

    There’s a term in IT lingo. “Success is a function of your weakest link”. What we are witnessing is a greater systematic failure of the thought leaders in our industry unable to invest time with the down and middle line management staff to train them, guide them.

    It is our responsibility to create the right opportunities for engagement. Deliver the right vision to young budding professionals to understand the changing dynamics of the industry. The brief is only a guidance..Its what you make of the brief is what makes a successful campaign..

    Well there’s another school of thought says that what we are giving the client for the value is far too more than what they are paying for. Never said don’t turn additional services into new service lines..But show the inclination.Back it up with some pilots which will work. Invest in some good talent to support new initiatives. So what if it leads to some amount of over-servicing. The client will feel ‘Yes they are really working in my interest”

    Six months to a year down the line when they really see a value, maybe like an ad agency you could transparently charge them a facilitation fee, some will resist, the good ones will pay.

    Once you make the good ones your brand champions everyone to toe your line and bide by the rules..I would be more happy if a client says they are not just our PR agency but our strategic advisors and brand consultants..

    Amit Mohile

  11. Hi all,

    I’ve just attended Ketchum’s Global PR Conference in London wherein 50+ participants from 20 different countries took part. One of the sessions had a client (British Telecom Corporate Communications Director) speak about what he wants from the agency, and it’s worth sharing with you:

    95% of the time I want my agency to not to come in my way
    5% of the time when I want them around, it is for strategic advise or to play crucial advisory role. And particularly ‘senior advise’.
    He elaborated that for the 5% element to succeed it is imperative that I have advise from the most senior person in the agency — so I am looking at grey hair and not a junior person.

    Now juxtapose the above statement with a common scenario in corporate life (including India). One of my clients (can’t name obviously) has asked for a PR plan for a certain event and despite submitting 8 ideas till date he still wants another two, sans any feedback on the earlier ideas. So it’s kind of a one-way traffic.

    The servicing team is not feeling good and all the points raised by Aarif have occurred already in real life. When I softly asked him what’s going on, he told me that “we have taken the product to sponsors and we are trying to sell it. But every sponsor wants something changed / tweaked. And hence it is a continuous ‘work-in-progress’. Please bear with us but I’d like to have two more PR plans by EOD.”

    I am sure there are tens of hundreds of arguments for and against what Aarif has raised, but to me at least, empathizing with clients is my karma. If the client is behaving in a particular way then I strongly believe there is a very valid reason. It’s just that clients don’t share with us, or can’t tell us or they don’t think worthy of us.


    Bakul Gala

  12. Thanks Team for the appreaciation :)

    Vikas – We have to it, especially we have to respect our profession right. at the end of the day it is a numbers game. at the time of the payments they ask us how many articles appeared so hence….. we should also have to tell them how many must have appeared if they would have answered back in time…. now clear the BLODDY PAYMENTS (many corp com guys must be laughing in their head)

    most important thing – its not about missing stories it is about participating – CLIENTS – if you will not participate then journalist will not involve you in such kinds of stories in future, so either answer or give us the power to answer on your behalf . Journalist have 100 other companies to feature so make sure… agency can only facilitate things cant spoon feed u (on a liggter note)

    himani – yes it will with ur self respect up and above ” that we know and we do our job right, results are based on mutual efforets”

    Kent comm. / Narnia- we have to come out of that “CLIENT” zone we dont work for them WE WORK WITH THEM must be this marked to some senior level guy, so it shows their in efficiency right so they will fight back…. tell them we are doing our job but you have to help and support us in that. media universe is small so they have to be fast . Be happy and laugh on their excuses lol

    Nikhil Kashyap

  13. Agree but if we are respecting their profession, let them respect ours. Also, PR is always not about payments. There has to some standard to be maintained by PR agencies. I can count the names of the agencies who simply say NO to clients for the things which doesnt comes under their contract, but small agencies left with no options rather than following clients’ instructions. Payment is a part of it but standards need to be maintained as this will help all of us in the long run.

    Corp Comm guys also know that at times they ask PR agencies for stupid favors which actually the agency is not suppose to do.

    I guess industry is changing and so the perception. Lets hope for the best.

    Vikas Kumar
    +91 9811054648

  14. Great points made by several members — Priyadarshini, Vikas, Nikhil, Oindrilla and of course, BNK and Bakul.

    However, a point of caution here. Before you start following and implementing them in your organisation, just check with your superiors once (unless you’re the boss yourself). Not all of these suggestions and practices may suit your organisation culture, business philosophy or the way they conduct business. So just check before you act.


    Aarif Malik
    Mumbai. INDIA.
    Cell: +91 98339340

  15. Friends!

    Its all about DOCUMENTATION!

    While we have welcomed Nikhil’s suggestion, haven’t we, the most of us, practiced it at some time of our career. The least we have done about it is mentioning it in our review presentations. So why not make it a habit! Trust, there are more Nikhil(s) in / out of the forum.

    But a basic homework that we can do – whether a new or an old client – Can we get prepared ourselves with all the collateral(s),FAQs etc on our client. I now we all follow it but can we follow it a bit more seriously. Why? – If we have our database ready, we can share the responses tweaking the inputs ( and u all would agree – if these documents are ready – we as an agency will have most of the inputs with us)

    And what a corp comm guy will need to do is to jst run down the query once to check if we need to share the information or not!!! cutting down his / her involvement in the whole cycle drastically.

    Example – For many MNC clients where the final approval needs to come from people based out of india – As a standard practice we keep our database updated. For any query that come to us we prepare the responses based on the inputs already we have with us and clients do approve them on priority on case to case basis without much delays because most of the inputs in the responses are already approved!!!

    And on secondary basis we can definitely share opportunity grid with our clients in our weekly/ fortnightly or monthly documents /meetings! This will help agency and client to keep a tap on what has been done what has been missed, why and how can the missed opportunity column could be reduced to zero :)

    We need to find a way out. We must understand the psychy of the client and follow standard procedures, what others have mentioned in their posts.

    cheers, rj
    Rakesh Kumar Jha
    M: +91-9873904595

  16. Hi there,

    The client agency relationship has to be of mutual understanding, – neither the client’s job is only to find fault with the agency nor the agency’s only job is to how to increase billing.

    I give below 2 incidents, that happened with one of our agencies when I was in Union Bank.

    A briefing session was on on an important project, including suggesting a brand name. My boss wanted the agency to make a presentation in just 3 days. when I made a plea to my BOSS that agency should be given more time, as creating some thing new takes more time, he fired me asking whether I work for bank or for agency.

    After few months, I received a complaint from a supplier to agency, whose payment was delayed for more than 6 months, under the pretext Bank had not paid, though Bank had paid promptly. Then I had to take up the matter very seriously with the agency for agency spoiling our reputation and warned in future such things happen, we will call it a day. It worked.


  17. Ok. I have been a member of this forum for quite some time but this is
    first time am actually compelled to comment. Having been on the client
    side for quite a few agencies some good some bad.. there were certain
    things i though should point out there are no unruly clients or bad
    agencies. Both teams just need time to gel.

    The client is not your enemy, they are not there to make your life

    It is very essential to have mutual respect and understanding between
    the cor com heads and the agency (some of my closest friends started
    of as executives/ managers/ ceos from various agencies, today even
    though they might not service my account anymore we still touch bases once a week). Respect the fact that as PR professionals or Cor Com professionals we are in the service industry. Accept the fact that the pressure they put on you is maybe 20% of what they are facing, being on the client side the pr/ cor com themselves face weird requests.

    Understand your client and expectations, my experience has been that
    most agencies today are fab at delivering ppt with grids but not that
    responsive when it comes to getting the work done. Even your client/
    cor com will have internal deadlines to meet. They expect the agency
    to take the time out to study the industry or how it functions its
    very disappointing when they come up with examples for that might work

    in MNC and not in a different company, clients cant spoon food.
    Understand that you are a part of the team and accept that you will be
    answerable to the client. Maintain an excel sheet of opportunities/
    job list this will make life easier for all. I never get the fact why
    agencies resist this so much.

    Always draft answers wherever possible before mailing to a client.
    Easiest to get a go ahead. I have a format that i insit on which has
    journo name/ media/ 3 or 4 lines on the journo / attitude towards the
    company / is it s specific or general story/ if general other
    participants/ deadline, what this does is one mails covers all your
    points in one email and less back and forth.

    Maintain a journo profile database / work experience/ behaviour
    pattern of your clients industry. It best that when you call them and
    say so & so journo does these kinds of stories and works this way so
    lets do this. Its very disappointing when your agency doesn’t know any
    about your beat journo.

    Yes as clients the demands can be many but at that point of time we
    respect an agency who can keep their calm. I still remember when i was starting of my boss would always say you defend your agency too much stop defending them and take their case. I would fight with them of tick them off for something wrong but all they did was wait and call
    me after 10 mins and explain things. Today those are the teams and
    people i recommend blindly as they took the time out to understand how the company functioned.

    I do know that this really doesn’t answer on how deal with unruly
    clients but well it was time to put the other side forward as well.
    Finally its all about RELATION BUILDING and that’s what we are here for.

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