Best (and Worst) Advice for Senior PR Managers

Derek LaVallee
Derek LaVallee

As we mature in our careers we gather advice we’ve received throughout the years. While much of it is forgotten with time, some of the most notable advice, both good and bad, is imprinted on our psyche—most likely because we followed it to either triumphant or disastrous ends. Of course, like anyone reading this column, I have been the benefactor and victim of both.

Below is some of the best and worst business advice I ever got:

Best: During my career I’ve interviewed and hired hundreds of employees.

Early on I received some tongue-in-cheek advice concerning the process that actually makes a great deal of sense. “Don’t fall in love,” a longtime mentor advised me.

He was talking about that feeling of finding what you initially believe is the perfect employee for a job.

Today’s job market is saturated with applicants whose qualifications, at first glance, are exemplary. While there are many qualified candidates looking for jobs, not all are a good fit for your company.

Through due diligence, you’ll learn much about your potential staff member’s relevant experience, capabilities and competencies. It’s almost assured that you’ll quickly discover candidates who “look good on paper.”

Add a winning smile and firm handshake and an employer can quickly become infatuated. Slow down. If all you look for are skills, abilities and experience to match a specific job description, you may be sorry down the road.

The costs associated with locating (and sometimes relocating), interviewing and training new employees is high, both financially and in terms of time. Employees are an investment. In fact they are our product.

The best hires will result in positive returns for your company. Just as you research an expensive appliance before purchasing it, take the time to explore some of the more intangible aspects of a potential employee.

Does the candidate exhibit passion for your business or industry? This is a plus of course, but fervor displayed for any interest is a positive sign.

Is collegiality important to the candidate? Will this person get along well with colleagues and clients? Can they take direction and constructive criticism?

Finally, does this candidate have values that align with yours? Do they present as honest and above reproach?

Worst: As business professionals, we strive mightily to attract customers. Often we find ourselves taking on a client whose particular needs are not necessarily a good fit and it’s a simple thing to rationalize our decision by renaming complex problems “challenges.”

This is seldom a good idea and leads me to share one of the worst pieces of advice I’ve ever received: “Grab the money.”

As strange as it may sound, the same care and consideration must go into selecting clients as employees.

You choose the client just as surely as the client chooses you. Many will seem attractive at first but may end up causing far more problems than their business is worth. As blunt as this might sound, it is nevertheless true.

Once a company that seemed to be a perfect fit approached us. During the first face-to-face meeting with the prospect, it became clear that the company wasn’t truly committed to the public relations value proposition as a way to achieve their objectives, didn’t understand that a strong reputation/brand is mission critical and couldn’t identify clear internal decision making paths—three of the things we look for in a successful client relationship.

But, they had money and were willing to spend it. We were strongly tempted despite our well-honed tenets.

After taking a step back, regaining our objectivity and allowing facts to drive our decision, we did the “revenue-benefit” analysis and determined that this client wouldn’t be a good fit. In retrospect, it was the right choice.

Of course, there will always be gray areas and no client is perfect. Perhaps there is some sort of combination of client needs and assets that make a tenuous relationship more palatable. Clearly defining your target clients and your position in your chosen industry will help you avoid attracting the wrong customers.

Identifying the types of clients with whom you work best, their attributes and what they can offer your business can produce more desirable results for both parties. PRN


Derek LaVallee is partner at Kemp Goldberg Partners. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the April 7, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.