Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The value of pushback

By Zoë Baptie, Account Director, Bluestripe Communications

There’s a saying, “the customer is always right”. It’s true in part that most businesses where a customer is paying for goods or services expect a certain level of service. And it’s frustrating if the reality doesn’t meet the expectation.  

When it comes to Public Relations (PR), managing expectations is a big part of the job. Sometimes, part of managing those expectations means having to push back on a client’s requests. And there’s huge value in working with an agency that isn’t afraid to do so. This isn’t limited to within the realm of communications, any teams that work together may have to push back every once in a while. 

Defined as opposition or resistance to an idea, plan, or strategy, the term ‘pushback’ can sound negative. But the reality is that when applied at the right time, and for the right reasons, pushback can be a force for good.   

Or what we could do…

Pushback isn’t just about saying no. It’s about saying this could work better and explaining why. As a consultancy, clients pay us for advice, as experts, on how to achieve the best results. So it’s about saying that’s not going to work while suggesting a solution. 

It’s part of the value of having an external agency that sees your business’ problems from an outsider’s view. Hiring “yes men” is not going to get you what you need. Instead, engaging with an agency that provides guidance and suggestions is more valuable when it comes to outcomes. We want to get great results on behalf of our clients but this requires trust, and sometimes compromise, from both parties. 

To get a perspective from ‘the other side’, Bluestripe client Graham Alexander, Global Director of Communications and PR at Teads, spoke to NDA about having an external agency that isn’t afraid to say no. “Having a team that pushes back, spots problems you hadn’t seen and then finds the solutions is critical to comms success. If all you’re looking for is someone to say “yes” and be delegated to, then you’re missing out on so much value that an agency brings.”

It’s not negative it’s necessary 

There is a balance and it’s important to always show a willingness to try and to focus on the positives. PR is about building relationships – and there are multiple balls to juggle. If we know something isn’t going to work for a particular journalist, we don’t want to upset that relationship by giving them something they’ve specifically asked not to receive. Not only do we need to protect our relationship, but it doesn’t do a client’s brand any favours by trying to push the boundaries. By getting to know clients and becoming an extension of their team, it’s easier to have these honest and transparent conversations. 

It’s also not a good use of time, and I mean this in the most positive way. If you are paying for a service you will get better results if the people you have hired to do the job aren’t using valuable time on something that isn’t going to work.

It’s important to look back 

At the end of a specific campaign or during regular reporting, it’s important to look back and take stock of what has or hasn’t worked and put in considerations for improvement to move forward. It’s not a case of “told you so”, but sometimes, timelines can become derailed due to other priorities or objectives that come in. 

It’s crucial to future success to see if the activity that has been undertaken has helped deliver against the agreed objectives and is delivering value to the business. It also helps to manage the financial aspects of the relationship between client and PR. Sometimes, it is a case of saying “we can do this, but it means we can’t do the other thing we agreed.”

It’s time to change the perspective on pushback and give it the recognition it deserves.

Let’s move from the negative connotation of the word and start viewing pushback as the valuable tactic that it is. 

*Bluestripe Communications is owned by Bluestripe Group, the owner of NDA.


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