Public relations: a conflict free zone

December 1, 2015 |

You get lots of potential conflicts of interest in PR agencies. If you are doing a great job for a client and your own brand grows in a sector, for example retail PR, or leisure PR you get lots of enquiries from other businesses in the field. Mostly these don’t conflict with existing clients, but occasionally they do. My view has always been to let clients be the judge of the level of conflict to their own business. If in their view there is none, we work with the new client. If there is we don’t. Sounds all very straightforward.

It isn’t. There are two schools of thought on this. On one side of the fence sit those who think it’s better to work for people in the same industry – sometimes becoming a specialist agency. These are particularly common in the areas of recruitment and legal.

The other side suggests that you should only be working flat out for one client, getting them every piece of coverage humanly possible.

If I am being honest, I think that you can work with clients who are in direct competition with each other. Here’s why.

To begin with, as an agency, you get more contact with journalists in the clients’ field of specialism if you’ve more than one client in the sector. You spend more hours in that space and therefore become more knowledgeable to all of the media exposure opportunities and social influencers there. Teams also derive more generic expertise of the sector, and whilst they don’t discuss client activity, they discuss the sector more in their working day with colleagues and get a greater understanding of its drivers and have their thinking challenged.

I do think that agencies should only work on competitive clients if they have separate teams. For example, we work for three separate creative agencies, as we are an agency now large enough to have three separate teams handling those clients. Confidentiality is adhered to at all times, and the clients benefit from the ‘friendly’ competitiveness between the teams.

Lots of opportunities come in each month and, as always, the client that is most qualified to contribute and will most benefit gets those that are right for them. If they weren’t best suited and the article wasn’t really worth spending their resource on – we wouldn’t be suggesting that they went for it anyway, so dealing with competitive clients is really about common sense and professionalism.

It’s what I believe but I never force this case in conflict situations and, as I said, I let the clients decide after I make my case for working for both. Am I disappointed if they don’t let us work for both? Not at all, as this allows me to become Santa Claus for our friends at other PR agencies that can do a great job too. It’s odd to say, but I sometimes get as much joy handing a great opportunity over to a friend in the industry, as I do signing a new client for Tank. Must be softening in my old age.