I just fired the Chairman

I’ve blogged before about the need for public relations practitioners to stand up for themselves if they want to be taken seriously. To believe in their own value. To push back if they feel their expertise and advice is being overlooked. And to have the guts to ‘consider their positions’ if this becomes an ongoing issue.

Today I practiced what I preach. After many months of being frustrated by a client’s refusal to engage with us on anything other than an arm’s-length basis, I “withdrew the services” of Due North after being told by the organisation’s Chairman that he just wasn’t interested in our advice and wanted us simply to do as we were instructed. By him.

It strikes me that we in PR are sometimes our own worst enemies. Too frequently I see cases where a communication advisor has quite obviously acted against best practice and I just know that somewhere in the mix there is an executive higher up the food-chain who has told that hapless individual: “I don’t care what you think. Just do it!”

Whether it’s issuing a piece of puff dressed up as ‘news’ or some more serious element of corporate misbehaviour, it’s a common-enough story.

And then, of course, it’s those “devious PR people” who shoulder the blame in the court of public opinion.

I don’t write this with any sense of bluster or bravado. Just sadness and a large dose of trepidation. Ours is a small consultancy and we struggle to find our niche among some of NZ’s larger players. We need desperately every cent of business we can find. So firing clients is not a decision that is ever taken at all lightly.

But in this case it needed to happen. For our own self-respect, if nothing else.

No, I write this solely in the hope that it will give other PR practitioners elsewhere, struggling under similar dictatorial regimes, the inspiration, courage and motivation they might need to ‘consider’ their own positions.

Here’s the correspondence, with all identifying details deleted:

Good afternoon, [redacted]

This is meant with sincere respect: we would be delighted to continue working with [redacted] but I’m afraid we’re not able to do so purely as an order-taker and news release distributor.

Where we can add value is from the inside. [Redacted] faces considerable reputational and relationship challenges and, given the opportunity, we are able to help you navigate these. That is the role that interests and engages us professionally, and which will keep our team up late at night to fight your corner.

Of course there would be times where our advice and guidance would need to be tempered by operational, political or commercial considerations. But we prefer to operate as close and trusted advisors to the Board and to the management team because that is where we feel we can add value and provide insightful and meaningful guidance.

If that is a role that you feel we can play I’d be delighted to work with you on making it happen. But otherwise I’m afraid I must withdraw our services.

With very best personal regards, etc

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