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Honestly! The most outrageous client demands and how to handle them

Whether it is being asked to send up “nice Danish girls” to a hotel bedroom, or to accompany a swordfish on a tram, we find out some of the extreme requests clients have made! We also offer some tips for dealing with ‘unusual’ demands.

Provide unacceptable room service

Robert Minton-Taylor, PR practitioner, journalist and lecturer: “In the early 1980s, just after I had been promoted as an account director of PR agency Burson-Marsteller I went on a business trip to Denmark to attend a global company meeting of a Danish-headquartered PR client. I was travelling with the odious and misogynistic CEO of its UK and Ireland subsidiary.
 
“When we arrived at the hotel in Copenhagen in the afternoon he called down to my room and asked me to send ‘some nice Danish girls’ up to his hotel room.
 
“Nervously, I went down to the front desk of the five-star hotel and with the help of the hotel’s general manager I reported the incident to the HR department of the Danish parent company.
 
“The CEO never got his ‘girls’ and in a drunken rage - presumably he’d emptied his room fridge of spirits - he called me again to sack me for insubordination and told me to fly home at my own expense.
 
“Thankfully, the British CEO got his comeuppance. As he walked into the company’s Copenhagen HQ the following morning to attend a regional licensee meeting he was sacked and I kept my job.”

Introduce a band called ‘Nosebleed’

Robert-Minton Taylor: “I was responsible for helping to arrange the launch reception of a new sponsorship by a credit card company at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. The company had signed the sponsorship to make it look cool and appeal to young artist types emerging out of the Swinging Sixties scene.
 
“The opening act was a band called Nasenblutenan (roughly translated into English as nosebleed) an Australian hardcore techno band from Newcastle. Midway through their death defying sound stage the lead singer used a hammer road drill to break up the stage. It sent the audience flying. Shades of The Who.
 
“But that wasn’t the worst bit. That came at the beginning of the evening when the head of the UK-division of the card company failed to show up. I was asked to give the opening address in his name. Fortunately, I’d had a hand in writing his speech which helped. But I was as nervous as hell.”

Swear at Sunday Telegraph editor

Robert-Minton Taylor: “The late Robert Maxwell, owner of Mirror Group Newspapers, hauled me into his office at Maxwell House (called Maxpax for short) on a late Saturday evening and told me to call the editor of the Sunday Telegraph and tell him to go and fxxx himself. I declined.”

Write Eulogy notes

Bernadette Ahmed, communications consultant: “A real low was when a client asked me to write a sympathy card and eulogy notes after the death of his ‘best friend’ (someone I’d never met). I sympathised, thinking he was too overwhelmed with grief to do it. He then explained that he didn’t have time to do it because his ad agency were taking him to the World Cup (bigger budgets than us PRs!). Reader, I did fulfil the request.”

48 hours to prepare for take off

Sarah Stephens, founder of agency Tree Communications: “One strange request was having to run around London to quickly find stylish accessories for six cabin crew for an event my airline client had sponsored as the uniforms had arrived incomplete. I had to source items that would make the outfits look (a) authentic and (b) stylish and represented the brand in under two hours. I then had to style hired actors (who I had had to recruit in under 48 hours for the event as at the last minute the real personnel had been pulled) and give them a crash course in the brand and destinations, in case any attendees asked them questions!”

Do very cold calling

Sarah Stephens: “Another strange thing was the time I managed crisis communications for the same airline via Twitter from my mobile phone whilst in bed with the flu on a Sunday morning after Heathrow had closed due to snow. I had to wake up the client’s head office team to inform them of the airport’s closure and also woke the UK director up to inform him too. I won a PR award for that one.”

Accompany a swordfish

Sarah Stephens: “For another client I had to escort a giant swordfish onto a Manchester tram. The swordfish was the mascot for the world swimming championships held in Manchester in 2008 and named Speedy. We took him onto Manchester trams for a photo opportunity because Metrolink who operated them were one of the sponsors.”

How to deal with ‘unusual’ requests

Claire Quansah, founder of agency operations consultancy Quansah Consulting: “Managing expectations and building trust from the outset of a client relationship, should make it much easier to explain why certain requests can’t or shouldn’t be fulfilled.

“That said, whilst some client requests can be outlandish and inappropriate, sometimes the seemingly random requests could be a sign of just how strong the relationship is. If that person is at a point where they trust your judgement and opinion on issues outside of the client-agency relationship, it might be a good thing!

“The challenge is to know how and where to draw boundaries with clients, even if it might not be the response they want. Integrity is a valuable trait that always pays in the long run.”

If you want to hear even worse stories of client abuse, you could take a peek at this feed on LinkedIn, where several people suggest they have tales too gruesome to reveal in this magazine… maybe, if you ask nicely, they will tell you!

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