Dealing with aggressive clients in the media industry

Coping with difficult clients in the media and PR industry…

When you are freelancing in the media business you will sometimes come up against awkward people – and one of the bad things about working for yourself is you can’t pass the buck to your boss.Dealing with aggressive clients in the media industry There’s no getting away from it, you will have to deal with the situation yourself. Here’s my top tips for spotting these people in the first place and how to cope…

First things first: Is there a reason why they are difficult?

It’s important not to confuse people who are worried with people who are genuinely just awkward and might be more hassle than they’re worth.
For example, when interviewees come to sister site, Featureworld, they have usually never had any dealings with the press before. Naturally any concerns need to be addressed and any worries allayed. But once this is done we find people trust us and enjoy selling their story. And as our interviewees know we are always there for them.

However, if for example they have unrealistic ideas such as believing their story is worth much more than it is, they want guarantees that their company will be given a huge plug in the publication and continue to ask for this even when we’ve told them it’s not possible (yes it does happen!) then however lovely their story is when it appears, there is a risk they’ll still be unhappy. In this case, as we only want happy clients, we advise they don’t go ahead at all.

Reasonable people will also listen to YOU the expert they have chosen to come to for advice and a service. People who are not difficult might ask lots of questions but they accept what you say and can then come to a decision.

Spot difficult clients early on in the relationship…

Signs they might be a nightmare include:
* Being initially difficult to contact – an early warning they might be unreliable and let you down.
* Conversely they are constantly ringing and emailing and expecting an immediate response (even on a Saturday night…)
* They keep asking the same questions over and over and are not reassured whatever you say. Or once you have addressed one set of issues, they come up with another…
* They are unsure what they want and keep changing their mind.
* They have totally unrealistic expectations.
* They are simply picking your professional brains. In this instance, for example, a company says they would like some PR but really just wants to find out your ideas so they can go off and do a cheaper DIY job themselves.
* Despite your explanations about why you have done something in a specific way, they continually question your professional judgement.
* Are plainly rude – even emailing you their list of ‘rules’.

Sometimes difficult clients start off fine but as things progress they become more and more demanding.

Avoid difficulties

* Listen and answer all their concerns but be completely honest about their worries – even if it means your client does not want to go ahead with you.
* Put everything in writing and ensure you have their approval before going ahead with anything.

Don’t take it personally

Awkward people tend to be the same with everyone. There’s a tendency to feel if someone is being difficult that you are not handling the situation properly. Obviously it’s good practice to question how you are dealing with someone but if you are dealing with them in the same way as everyone else in your business, it is unlikely to be you.

Consider your options

One of the benefits of working for yourself is you don’t have to answer to a boss. Ultimately you can decide not to sell someone’s story or not to take on the PR for a company.

Consider asking someone else’s opinion. Are you over-reacting yourself to their behaviour? Have you really put that person’s mind at rest? Did you properly explain everything from the outset and has all this already been put in writing? Ensure it isn’t you who caused them difficulties and cause for complaint- perhaps by initially making their expectations too high to win their custom.

If, despite the above, you decide the client truly is very difficult you have three options:

* You continue to field all the problems as best you can, saying nothing to the client about their behaviour. You can also consider charging the client more for your services (you have to build in hassle time!)
* Be very firm. You tell them you can only represent them if they acknowledge the key issues they haven’t accepted so far. Be aware very difficult people never think it’s them (they rarely look at themselves and their behaviour) and this approach can result in them dropping you.
* You decide not to represent them. This can seem an extreme response to an awkward client – especially when there is money involved – but sometimes the best course of action IS to let people go (and hassle someone else…) At sister site Featureworld for example, we have to consider we are putting interviewees forward to national newspapers, magazines and television. We have a reputation to protect – we constantly receive compliments from publications and from shows such as ITV’s This Morning and Daybreak about how lovely Featureworld interviewees are – and we would not want to send editors anyone who was difficult.

Finally, if you don’t represent them, accept the difficult client is still likely to go off somewhere else to someone who will. It might be you later discover this person has become a client of someone else’s PR firm or sold their story via another journalist and wonder if you could have acted differently in some way. Perhaps they were less awkward with them? Don’t be fooled… provided you did the very best you could and treated them with the respect and care you do with every other (happy) client, you can be assured they will still be as awkward as before. They are possibly 10 times more likely to complain about nothing and continue to be a nightmare, running you ragged or worse, bringing disrepute on your business. So just be glad you had a lucky escape…

You might also enjoy: The things some interviewees say – how NOT to sell your story.

If you run a media business or are a freelancer, we would love to know your tips too. Tell us below…

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Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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