Saying No To A Client

In the service business, which I consider myself to be in, the simple and usual approach is to say the customer is always right. But sometimes no is the right – and difficult – answer.

I worked with a client, where the top executives essentially wrote the press releases, sometimes three or four pages long,  and were dismissive of the communications and marketing department. The responsibilities were sometimes handed out to other departments in a haphazard way. Obviously, this was unsustainable.

When I came on board, I said no – often. In fact, I was told I said “no, we shouldn’t do that” too much. My initial, defensive, reaction was that I could only advise them what my experience and the data showed me. Of course, my attitude was an issue as well. I did change my delivery once I became comfortable with the company’s tendencies.

First, I began to collaborate more, using both inside and outside sources, on documenting best practices for the company. When I was involved in decision making, I would give them two approaches: One is what they would have normally done, and the second is what I thought should be done. Though I didn’t phrase it that way. It didn’t resolve all the problems. But it cut down on the pushback.

People think, because they’re successful in other fields, that communications and marketing are easy. Even when they’re confronted with the evidence that they’re not, or experience disagrees with their assumptions, it still can be a challenge.

It can also be viewed as a daunting task to alter ingrained and counterproductive communications attitudes, especially if you’re an outside consultant. So don’t view it that way. Answer the basic questions and your role in helping to educate and plan a strategy.

What’s the challenge? What’s the solution? What’s your effort to begin the changes? I can’t control what others do with the information I provide, so I had to learn to let that part go. It hasn’t always worked out the way I wanted, but it certainly changed my perspective.