Delivering bad news: how do you handle it?

You want it WHEN?

My mom raised honest children.  Sometimes, that doesn’t always work so well for me.

I believe in being honest, don’t get me wrong! I just wish it paid better.

I am often in the position of delivering my honest assessment to clients and prospective clients.  At least 50% of the time, clients appreciate my informed opinion, and they take it for what it is, an opinion.  I’d say, the other half of the time, and this is invariably with prospective clients, I tell them what I think they need to hear, rather than what they want to hear.  That doesn’t always work so well for me, because a lot of those clients don’t call back.

I should probably say: I’ll take your money and make it happen.  But I can’t because of my mom and the whole honesty thing 🙂  I try to be tactful, I try to present options, and I try to be succinct.  I’m not sarcastic or rude, but I can be direct.  I make suggestions for alternative approaches that I think will work with their budgets.  I always qualify my statements by saying they are based on my personal knowledge and experience.  But I don’t say anything unless I am fairly convinced I am right.

What I’d love to hear from you is how do you handle those calls for miracles?  Do you say what your prospective client wants to hear and worry about the details later?  Or do you feel you have a responsibility to help them understand the opportunities and limitations of their project?  Or do you just blow them off, if they are clearly not clued in and probably not going to hire you?

What happens is sometimes a client wants a miracle…they want to get publicity for a project with 30 days.  They want an outcome to be delivered in six weeks.  They expect a single video to do the work of an entire marketing campaign.  I get a few of these kinds of requests each month.  I would love to tell these prospective clients — yes, I will take this project on for this price and within your desired time frame, and the chances of results you want are good.  But that’s just not the case.  I have to be honest.

Almost no marketing or public relations or social media tactic can stand alone.  That’s expecting too much of a website or Facebook Page.  It’s like serving a meal with just mashed potatoes when people are expecting turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole. (Whoops!  Can you tell I’m already thinking about Thanksgiving?)

Public relations results do not happen overnight. It can take six months or more to build the foundation and sustain the momentum to see results.

A single advertisement or direct mail piece will not make that much of a dent.  With advertising, planning and repetition are proven success factors.

YouTube videos don’t go viral just because a cause is worthy or a business has a story to tell.  And one video can only tell one story, or maybe part of a story.

I want my prospective clients to dream big, I do.  I just also want them to have reasonable expectations when they have limited time, resources, or budgets.  How can I convey that in a way that convinces them but doesn’t scare them away?


About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince ( Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.

Posted on November 3, 2011, in Client/Agency Relationship. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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