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There’s ‘no’ secret to being a successful PR professional

NOThere are many skills that will help you on the road to PR super-stardom; being able to talk on the phone convincingly and the ability to boil a whole lot of information down to the salient points are two of the most important from my point of view. Looking at things from both your client’s perspective and that of the journalist (and their audience) is another essential attribute.

 

But if there is one thing that I think will boost you from decent agency plodder into a trusted business advisor and consultant, it is being able to say ‘NO’ (I also think there is immense power in the use of the phrase ‘I don’t know’ – but that’s another story).

 

Now, I don’t mean to say that you should be firing off the ‘no’s’ left right and centre – more often than not, coming up with a creative way to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes, let’s do that’ is the best course of action. However, every now and again you’ll be sent something to work on that you just know won’t get any coverage and may even make the client look bad.

 

It’s then that you have to gird your loins and step in.

 

Saying ‘no’ to a client can go one of two ways – if you mess it up you will lose their trust. If you get it right you will gain more of it. So the stakes are high.

 

Clearly, this is a skill that will take a bit of time to develop fully. Firstly, in order to say no to a client, you need to know your sh*t. Saying no is authoritative – but authority is difficult to wield if you don’t have all the facts to back your position up. If you say you don’t think anyone will be interested in the fact that they have just painted their boardroom yellow, you will have to explain why.

 

Secondly, you need to be firm. This is sometimes difficult, but I always remind myself that we are hired as PR professionals, this is our area of expertise, and those expertise are what the client is paying for. If you don’t give your honest opinion, you are doing them a disservice.

 

So, get comfortable saying ‘no’ – it may be the most positive thing you do this year.


  1. Sometimes a good way to say no is to say yes. Then gently lead the client through the implications of what they’ve requested. Then, in collaboration with the client, use their idea as a springboard to a better, more constructive alternative.

    Three things have happened: (1) You’ve steered them away from shooting themselves in the the foot (2) You’ve allowed them to “think of a great idea!” and (3) You’ve saved your nuclear option (“no”) for a more difficult situation down the road — and perhaps saved your agency from “a firing”.

    • Hi Harvey, I couldn’t agree more with your comment. A straight ‘no’ is a rare occurrence – and I’d much rather work with the client to develop an idea than shut it down entirely. Still – sometimes, just sometimes, saying ‘no’ is best for everyone involved.

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