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PR Pitfalls: Sherrilynne Starkie Chronicles of Client Challenges and Triumphs

PR Pitfalls: Sherrilynne Starkie Chronicles of Client Challenges and Triumphs

This article belongs to Episode #41: Sherrilynne’s Client Horror Story, brought here for us by Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman. Please watch the complete episode here!


“So ask your clients for references. What happened to your former agency? Who was doing this before me? What happened to them? Where did they go? Why aren’t they here anymore? That’s a very good question to ask.”​​ – Sherrilynne Starkie


Strap in for a ride through the exhilarating, sometimes hair-raising world of public relations with Sherrilynne Starkie, our savvy guide and boutique agency chief. Picture this: a quaint Isle of Man setting, where every twist in the tale is as unpredictable as the Irish Sea. Enter a telecom startup, brimming with potential, and Starkie, with her arsenal of PR wizardry, ready to make magic happen. But wait, this isn’t your usual rags-to-riches story. What starts as a dream collaboration quickly turns into a wild chase of missed payments and legal labyrinths.

Starkie’s tale isn’t just about the bumps and bruises of client relations; it’s a vivid diary of PR survival, sprinkled with wit and wisdom. She dives into the nitty-gritty of due diligence, the art of creating a fail-safe paper trail, and why a healthy dose of skepticism can be your best friend in business. Ever thought of asking a client for references, or why their last PR romance ended in tears? Starkie makes a compelling case for it.

This article is more than a behind-the-scenes peek at PR drama; it’s a crash course in client management, served with a generous helping of Starkie’s hard-earned insights and a dash of humor. Prepare to be enlightened, amused, and armed with knowledge that could save your next PR campaign from sinking. All aboard for a story that’s as educational as it is entertaining, with a twist of the unexpected!

The Art of Choosing the Right Clients

Choosing the right client is not just about matching project requirements with agency skills; it’s about aligning values, expectations, and working styles. Starkie’s tale from the Isle of Man with a telecom startup highlights the importance of this alignment. It’s not just about what you can do for your clients, but also what your clients can do for your agency in terms of growth, learning, and mutual respect.

Starkie points out a significant, often overlooked aspect: asking clients for references. “I always get clients asking me for references like prospective clients and you know the best clients are the ones that actually check them because they actually care. So ask your clients for references. What happened to your former agency? Who was doing this before me? What happened to them? Where did they go? Why aren’t they here anymore?”​​ This approach not only helps in understanding a client’s background but also sets a tone of mutual accountability and transparency.

It emphasizes the importance of due diligence. Understanding a client’s history, financial stability, and reputation in the market can save agencies from potential pitfalls. In PR, where reputations are built and broken on the strength of relationships, choosing the right client is as important as delivering a successful campaign. 

Communication Is Key

In public relations, managing client expectations is akin to walking a tightrope. One misstep in communication can lead to misunderstandings, unmet expectations, and ultimately, client dissatisfaction. Starkie’s narrative emphasizes that the key to successful client management lies in setting realistic expectations from the outset. This involves having candid conversations about what is achievable, the timeframes involved, and the potential challenges that might arise.

But communication doesn’t stop at the initial agreement. Ongoing dialogue is crucial. Regular updates, check-ins, and feedback loops help in maintaining transparency and building trust. Starkie’s approach underlines the importance of keeping clients in the loop, even when news is not favorable. This honesty fosters a sense of partnership and shared responsibility for the outcomes.

Moreover, understanding the client’s perspective is essential. Seek answers to the following questions:

  • What are their business goals? 
  • What does success look like to them? 

Starkie’s experiences show that taking the time to understand the client’s vision can lead to more tailored and effective PR strategies. She emphasizes the importance of open dialogue: “You have to have a full and honest conversation with your clients about your arrangements and your payments and your brief and your relationship in general. That’s how you build long-term relationships”​​.

Effective communication also means being an active listener. Clients often offer valuable insights into their industry, audience, and expectations. By actively listening and adapting strategies accordingly, PR agencies can better align their efforts with the client’s objectives.

The Importance of Contracts and Paper Trails

Clear and comprehensive contracts are the bedrock of any client-agency relationship. These contracts must delineate the scope of work, payment terms, timelines, and responsibilities. Starkie’s experiences teach us that a well-drafted contract is not just a legal formality but a foundation for clear expectations and mutual understanding.

Equally vital is the maintenance of a thorough paper trail. Starkie illustrates the importance of this practice through her own approach: “So I actually wrote out printed letters and brought them to the post office to send them a registry post so that someone had to sign for them so that I knew that there was actually a paper trail that I had made this request.”​ This method ensures that every significant conversation, decision, and agreement is recorded, providing tangible evidence in case of disputes.

Documenting interactions and agreements is not about mistrust; it’s about professional prudence. In case of conflicts or disagreements, having a paper trail can significantly simplify resolution processes. It establishes a record of the agreed-upon terms and can prevent misunderstandings from escalating into major issues.

Adapting Strategies from Client Challenges

Every client challenge presents an opportunity for learning, and each situation from this story offers insights into better managing future relationships. Adapting strategies based on these experiences is crucial. For instance, if communication gaps led to misunderstandings in one project, implementing more structured communication protocols for the next becomes vital.

Starkie’s journey also highlights the importance of being flexible and open to change. The PR industry is dynamic, with evolving client needs and expectations. Being adaptable in response to successes and failures is key to agency resilience. This adaptability not only enhances the agency’s capabilities but also demonstrates a commitment to continuous improvement.

Starkie herself reflects on this learning process: “So all I got for all my trouble was a life experience that I’ve learned from. And you know it’s not a mistake that you make twice especially when you’re consulting your small agency or one- or two-man agency. You learn the warning signs and you learn to circle the wagons earlier.” This quote encapsulates the essence of learning from challenges – recognizing warning signs early and adapting accordingly.


This article belongs to Episode #41, please watch the complete episode here!