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Spot the warning signs and steer clear of nightmare PR clientele

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Got a clear picture of what you are looking for in a publicist? Don't know where to begin? Somewhere between those extremes?

Having dealt with a wide range of publicists during my 20 years in print journalism, and through my nine-year path thus far in the field, here is one trait by which I would recommend you measure a prospective publicist: a passion for the process.

But on the flip side of that, if you are a publicist, then it's vital to recognize when you are on the verge of agreeing to work on behalf of a nightmare client. This isn't to say that the prospect is ill-intended, or corrupt, but that the relationship would not be a healthy fit, for one reason or another.

As a publicist, I may be fired up about what I can do generally, but if I don't see how that will translate to a given prospective client, then we are behind the eight-ball from the start.

That's a dreadful place to be. And having been there through experiences where I could not muster nearly enough passion for a given client, I have learned to decline overtures from organizations seeking to hire me but which do not kindle a creative spark.

In some cases, I can point very confidently to a red flag that prompts my leeriness: an individual who is hard to communicate with, a key player in the organization's leadership who doesn't respect my time or expertise, or someone who is unprepared or unwilling to invest a few months' retainer upfront.

These red flags show up consistently across industries. It's the pushy car salesman who is you to sign on the dotted line, or it's the off-color, way-over-the-line remark that someone utters at a chamber of commerce event, unmasking a character trait they had previously managed to suppress.

In seminars and conferences in and around Chicago over the years, Amway Diamond Bill Hawkins, a World Wide Group (WWDB) leader, emphasizes to Independent Business Owners the importance of following your instinct when it comes to such interactions. It's also a matter of maintaining a solid business footing and communicating your self-assurance about what you offer in the business transaction.

"Remember, you don't need them," Hawkins has instructed. "They need you!"

Other times, you may find pinpointing the concern to be elusive. It's just something you feel, reminiscent of what Malcolm Gladwell writes about in his best-selling book, Blink. I have learned to trust my intuition when my gut tells me that someone seeking my services would not be a good fit. Better to see how you can refer them to someone else than to get mired in a business relationship that will not bring out the best in you, or for them.

A few resources locally where you can find publicists to serve you: the Publicity Club of Chicago and the Chicago chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).