Receiving criticism from a client is something that can be a disheartening and – if allowed – a demotivating experience. Nearly every PR professional at one point or another will encounter negative feedback relating to their performance. Clients will have their opinion or point of view about an event or an activity that the PR has organized and if it went well will congratulate and offer praise. However, if in their opinion the activity went badly, they will also want to let them know that they are not happy.
The important thing to always keep in mind is that any such criticism received should not be taken personally. It should be accepted with an open mind and be viewed as an experience to learn from and grow. Naturally, the PR may feel aggrieved if there were things outside of their control that impacted on the activity and for which they shouldn’t really be blamed, but this often won’t be seen by the client who is just concerned with the bottom-line of success. Also, the PR needs to be aware that most of the time when someone is not satisfied with their work it is because they think that their way of doing it is much better. Too often they are unable to appreciate that there may be other equally as valid and effective methods.
If, as a PR, you are not sure why your client is complaining, or what went wrong from their point of view, you need to identify the issue in order to take steps to minimize the chance of it happening again. Even if you feel that you are blameless, it is important not to adopt an overly defensive attitude as this can be construed as confrontational. Instead, use the immediate post-event time to ask questions that will allow both of you to explore the activity in retrospect. Asking questions on how you can improve things demonstrates to your client that you are indeed concerned on ensuring the next similar activity runs smoothly.
If the negative feedback comes in the form of an official e-mail, then don’t be too hasty in responding. You should adopt a considered approach where you carefully pull out the specific points in the e-mail that need addressing. Use the opportunity to request an open conversation with your client, as this will benefit both sides. It will allow the client to feel that they are being listened to and will give you the chance to understand their position.
Hopefully by showing that you are an attentive listener and keen to take on board your client’s criticisms you can strike the right going forwards. Ultimately though, you have to move on with your work. In doing so, you should keep in mind that it is difficult to please everyone all the time, with your all-important clients being no exception.
The three important things to remember when receiving negative feedback are: don’t overreact, don’t take it personally and don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow.