When “No Means No” ...


When “No Means No” in Business

Journalists might look at that headline and assume this is another post bashing PR for hounding journalists after their pitches have been rejected.

That’s not where I’m coming from.

Instead, I want to move away from storytelling for a minute and talk about the business side of a communications consultancy. Every professional services firm values new clients and the associated revenue that comes with a win.

For us, the tricky part comes in predicting the likelihood of a long-term relationship. While many intangibles go into this equation, the core lies in how the client defines success and whether the outcomes from our services will deliver on that definition. If we conclude for whatever reason that the client won’t be happy with our work – unrealistic expectations, budget limitations, debatable chemistry, timeframe, etc. – then we’d rather not move forward with the engagement.

With this in mind, here’s a note that recently went out the door:


I have patiently watched this unfold from the sidelines.

XXXXXXX and XXXXXXX both expressed such enthusiasm for your business that we made the call to continue our elongated dialogue.

But I am now stepping in to say –

I am sorry, but we can’t support XXXXX at CES.

We have now reached the point where I am concerned about my own company’s reputation if we take on this project.

There isn’t time to produce the results you expect. I don’t want to be in a situation after CES on January 11 where we’ve done everything humanly possible to build your brand, and your company executives are still unhappy. I would rather not take your money than be in such a situation.

I feel no matter how many talks we have and no matter how many emails we exchange, your company still doesn’t understand the “assets” needed to be effective at CES.

Here’s the bottom line –

We started our discussions with XXXXXXX back in July about CES. Here we are in November still talking.

The core reason is XXXXX does not trust us. Certainly, it is up to you to decide who to trust or not to trust.

But as I shared with XXXX and XXXXXXXX, trust must be the basis of all of our client relationships. This foundation is the key to why we’ve been successful for 26 years. Even when things don’t go according to plan – which happens in the communications business – this trust means that our clients know we put forth the best possible effort on their behalf, which in turn makes for healthy and long-term relationships.

I felt XXXXX deserved to know the “why” behind our decision.

I’m happy to talk this through on the phone.



This isn’t a case or right or wrong.

If the prospect views communication services as a commodity with endless energy devoted to driving the price point downward, that’s fine.

They’re just not a fit for us.


  • Rick Christ

    Absolutely correct. No business is better than bad business. The tough parts are: (1) knowing your own business well enough to know what’s not a good fit; and (2) being confident enough to say “no” and moving on.

    • hoffman

      Addressing those “tough parts” requires equal parts science and art. There are times when you know in your gut an opportunity isn’t a good fit … but the “optimistic” mind keeps saying we can make it work. In professional services where people tend to be “pleasers,” working through this conflict can be particularly challenging.

  • Lou Covey

    Brilliant. If more PR agencies did this, CES might become valuable again. I would pity the professionals who scooped this up if they weren’t so reprehensible.

    • hoffman

      Thanks Lou (the narcissistic side of me enjoys that line). While there are definitely parts of the business that haven’t changed much over the past 25 years, I think you’d agree that all in all, the PR industry has never been in better shape. We just need to find a new acronym.


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