How Do You Handle a High-Profile PR Client?

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Having a high-profile PR client can be exciting and profitable, but it brings with it a number of intangibles and unexpected twists you might not have foreseen.

Even though the media wants a high-profile client, and you would think that would be easier than getting publicity for a regular client, these requests often come in bunches and at odd hours. Sometimes the high-profile client can be picky about what media they will do, and may balk at formats and interview ground rules.

Prepare to Be Overwhelmed

When a high-ranking politician resigned, I was handling PR for his predecessor—and I got eight separate requests to do eight different interviews from just one TV network, not to mention all the other media calling and emailing me. The client couldn't do all eight and I wouldn't let him. (The solution: give the network with the eight requests one interview they could share on all of their platforms.)

Then there was the Sunday night the killing of Osama Bin Laden was announced; my phone and email exploded with media requests for the same client.

These kinds of dealings can be typical with a high-profile client. When you have a client like this, it's very important to have balance, because you need to remember your other clients—especially if they are at the same company or entity.

A Few Questions to Consider When You Get a High-Profile Client

  • What should your fee structure be? Before taking on the client, figure out what the parameters and expectations are, and staff and bill the account accordingly. Figure out your fee and then throw in an add-on over your fee because the work will require something extra—sort of a high-profile surcharge. I would suggest 15% to 25%. It depends of course on how much money the client has and on what the market will pay.
  • How should you staff the account? Equally as important and connected to fees is what size PR team you put on the high-profile account. This will be a work in progress and a mix of mostly senior PR people. Starting points for number of staff you’ll need: 3 to 5 for a well-known politician, 15 to 20 for a big brand, 5 to 7 to 10 (depends) for a celebrity. You may need to revisit this from time to time.
  • Is media training needed? When the client signs on and they've been in public life for a while, do you suggest media training? Or are you sort of stuck with their media skills and persona? It’s sort of like the famous Supreme Court line: I know obscenity when I see it; even though I can't totally define it. The same here: When you see how they are with the media, you can just tell and you may be stuck with it. Of course, I would bring up media training to test the waters, but sometimes a high-profile client thinks they know it all or isn't likely to change their media MO.
  • How famous are they? Coordinate with security; it's one more thing to be aware of with a high-profile client. Sometimes it's a short walk to the interview but you should always think of security.
  • What if the high-profile client makes a flub? A high-profile client is more likely to make news when they speak. You’re going to have to do damage control and possibly crisis PR. Post-flub, revisit messaging and media training.
  • What if the high-profile client doesn't like media ground rules? A high-profile client can think they deserve a one-on-one on TV and instead they may get a panel. They may want to turn these down. That hurts a PR person's relationship with producers, so you need to smooth things over on both sides.

Final Tips for Handling a High-Profile PR Client

  • They are people; they put their pants on one leg at a time. Treat them as such.
  • Go the extra mile for them, as you would for any client.
  • Expect what they say to make news and generate other media interest. Be prepared.
  • Make sure you or a staff member go with them for live TV interviews. If there's a problem, it will be good if you are there. Make sure the makeup is done well, and ask the producer for the high-profile client's favorite soda or water.
  • Make sure you hire a clipping service for this client's coverage.

A high-profile client can be lot of extra work, but have some fun with it.

Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications.  Contact him at ajbcomms@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms