How to tell a client their ‘baby’ is ugly

How to tell a client their ‘baby’ is ugly

In honor of being incredibly lazy this week, here’s one of my fave 2009 posts – the last Friday of every month I’ll throw a repeat of one of the more popular posts, just in case you missed it!

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A product, service or book is probably the greatest thing in the world – to its creator. But when an editor or producers says “pass” it’s the publicist who has to tell the client. Sometimes ZERO  media are interested. And for anyone who has written a book, started a business or provided a service, that can be a pretty personally hurtful message no matter how carefully it’s couched. For me, it’s the equivalent of having to tell clients “your baby is ugly” 95% of the time, without hurting their feelings. Nearly impossible.

Why do I bring this up? Two reasons –

1) People need to engage in the public relations game knowing their odds. The chances of getting on national television or major print are very slim unless you are a celebrity or just did the impossible – like climbed a mountain for the first time while drinking martinis in pink bloomers. And even if you are a celebrity, you still get bumped. Michael Moore was bumped by Paris Hilton on Larry King Live (and boy was he pissed)

2)  Publicists need to tell their clients this. I love DIY publicists like Joan at the Publicity Hound. She gets that most people and companies don’t have the money to keep a PR campaign going as long as it takes. So she teaches them how to do it themselves. That helps them get PR in the first place and it also helps them understand the process, which helps ME when it’s time for them to engage in a PR firm.

Here are a few things people should know before they go into this.

  • It’s not personal. The editor at Health magazine told me one month she got 400 new fitness DVD’s in the mail. How could she possibly go through them all?
  • It has to be relevant – not only to the current media environment, but to the editorial guidelines of the pub or broadcast show, to the preferences of the producer, to what they’ve done in the past 12 issues or shows, to the juxtaposition of Mars to the moon (okay I’m exaggerating) Point it, we can’t possibly know all that before pitching. Whether or not something will hit is at best an educated guess.
  • You might have the best publicist in the world and due to circumstances out of their control, you might get nothing despite their best intentions.

So why do PR if it’s such a crap shoot? First of all, if you’re consistent and pitching the right thing to the right media, it will work – eventually. Nothing is more effective long term than public relations done well. (and I emphasize DONE WELL)

So bottom line? Don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t like your pitch. Change the angle and move on. We really aren’t telling you your baby is ugly. It’s just not the right size, right now.


  • Sarah Cothran
    Posted at 14:07h, 26 February Reply

    Oh how many times I’ve been here. The flip side of course is the story that you don’t think has a shot in hell and it spreads like wildfire.

    • waxmarketing
      Posted at 14:09h, 26 February Reply

      Laughed when I read your comment. I’ve had those wildfire ones too – the International Underwater Hockey Tournament comes to mind.

  • Cally
    Posted at 01:22h, 27 February Reply

    In my part it’s impossible to say a client that his/her child is guitar lessons

  • Self Service SEO
    Posted at 10:54h, 27 February Reply

    Been on both sides of this issue… For me it was harder telling the person that their product was unmarketable than it was when I’ve been told the some thing.

  • Meche
    Posted at 22:05h, 27 February Reply

    I gotta say I love the “your baby is ugly” analogy, great article

  • Cigs
    Posted at 08:29h, 03 March Reply

    Very Nice Article! It a really very difficult task to tell the truth in several situations!

  • Rob Anderson
    Posted at 15:23h, 04 March Reply

    Once i had stopped laughing, i realized that i have found that if i insult a client fairly quickly about a small aspect of his marketing efforts then he tends to stop and listen to what i have to say.
    generally everybody is always too nice, so when you look him in the eye and use some sort of small “shock” tactic like a comment like ” i CAN fix this sh*t” it leaves them open mouthed- and you can put your whole arm down their throat and take almost anything that you want to.
    and yes – it can backfire.
    Ugly baby indeed.
    I loved it.
    looks a lot like my brother in law.

    • waxmarketing
      Posted at 16:18h, 04 March Reply

      Haha tell rob I’m sorry. And I plan to use that marketing tactic aka “I can fix this sh#**t” very soon thanks for the laugh

  • Rob Anderson
    Posted at 15:27h, 04 March Reply

    Yes i know i am back too fast. but i remembered something i used to do in the past.
    when tele-canvassing at night most people never listen to you…
    so i devised a trick and got a 95% turn around.
    when they answered the phone i muttered “ahh crap!” and they said what? and i started to apologize like a fool – and slowly led into explaining what the hell i was doing. and eventually sold their house.
    ok. done.
    had to tell you the story.

    • waxmarketing
      Posted at 16:19h, 04 March Reply

      Too funny! Again will try it the next time I’m cold calling.

  • pack
    Posted at 08:13h, 05 March Reply

    great reading. we go through this everyday

  • Eugene
    Posted at 10:24h, 15 March Reply

    Great post, great analogy! Thanks for sharing.

    • waxmarketing
      Posted at 09:52h, 17 March Reply

      Your site is fantastic! I now have a kitchen resource to go to.

  • Mackenzie Siroky
    Posted at 18:14h, 19 March Reply

    I agree. I don’t know whether it’s bad manners or just that young bloggers don’t understand the nature of the conversation.

  • ACE
    Posted at 05:21h, 29 March Reply

    I’d say eather you fix it up or live with the consequences,lol.

  • essay
    Posted at 02:52h, 26 April Reply

    I talked to a PR marketing lady before, she told me to give her articles and gift certs and ill pay her around $50 usd per published article (pretty good in the philippines) still no result to date, its been 6 months now.

  • essay
    Posted at 02:53h, 26 April Reply

    im checkin the site now

  • Mary Joy
    Posted at 14:45h, 09 May Reply

    By just seeing Mr. Bean it makes me laugh already ahaha, nice article you got there. Salamat 🙂

  • Alan @ cordless blinds
    Posted at 08:04h, 15 May Reply

    I ran into this problem. My company’s PR tried and failed for at least 20 times before they got it right. The first time we receive our national coverage, we literally celebrate by opening a champagne.

  • Annie @Spam Blacklist
    Posted at 05:01h, 22 May Reply

    I think teddy is cuter than MR. Bean ahaha. Anyway I really enjoyed your article nice site you got there.

  • Indian handicrafts
    Posted at 10:32h, 01 June Reply

    very funny photo ! i like it

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