Why Empathy Takes your PR Campaign Further with Better Results

Want to get the most out of your PR firm or publicist? Try showing a little empathy with your team and see how it leads to better results.

Most experienced entrepreneurs and sales leaders understand the value of empathy, but unfortunately – when it comes to outside vendors – it’s frequently forgotten. I’ve observed and experienced this inside and outside of the PR business. 

As a former Executive Producer with NBC, I always showed empathy with my producers and reporters because I genuinely felt their pain. I recognized when employees needed a break to recharge their mind and body, or when a family issue needed time outside of work. It might not have been financially aligned with the corporate spreadsheet but it always inspired more productivity and loyalty.

Plus, it was the right thing to do.

In this era of tight employment and waning worker loyalty, empathy needs to be on a higher level. You can’t fake it because workers will see through it in time. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to hiring an outside PR firm or publicist, we don’t get to experience empathy until after the contract is signed. Over the last decade of running this agency, I’ve seen how clients who value our work with a spreadsheet are typically the most difficult. They ignite more stress. In the worst situations, they believe they know more about the media than me and undermine every decision.

Here’s a closer look at some of the warning signs that suggest you might need to do an empathy check. And if you have empathy, trust me, the best pr firms will always want to work with you and usually at a lower price.

Bad Omen: Negotiates for Free Hours

It’s a fair question to ask how many hours you or your team are devoting to an account. But when it enters the negotiating phase, it’s usually an early indicator that a client might value your work with a spreadsheet. This is more dangerous when the potential client doesn’t understand how PR, marketing, sales and SEO all work together.

Understanding the ROI of PR is a critical part of business, but when it bleeds into a negotiation or breakdown of “my hours” versus my “team’s hours” even though the final cost is the same, it usually spells out: “difficult.”

And when a potential client starts asking for free hours, that’s when I know they’re using a spreadsheet to evaluate work.

Good Omen: Wants to Hear How We Work

On the opposite extreme is the empathy-driven client who wants to learn more about how we work. It’s usually inside of these detailed conversations that they can value the return on PR.

The empathetic client doesn’t see the need to negotiate for free hours. In most cases, they can glean from our conversation the PR process and how it adds up. And if they don’t get it, they usually ask for a more thorough explanation of it. In addition, this empathetic client is usually a good listener because they know they have to listen to understand the process. And usually by listening, they show more deference to the experience we might bring to a company.

Bad Omen: Expects Unreasonable Timelines

This approach can reveal so much before any contract is signed.

If a potential client tells me they want to see results in the first week, I start to question how well they understand PR. And if they don’t understand the PR process, they will inevitably get frustrated and upset when the real world kicks in. 

This approach also applies to how early a client begins looking for help. I’ve had potential clients tell me they are 9 months away from making a decision yet they want an hour of my time to hear how we work. In simple terms, they are shopping around. I usually tell these clients to get back to me when they are closer to deciding their launch date. A lot can change over 6 months, especially in this volatile economic client. 

There’s another more nuanced and indirect effect from this approach. Expectations are typically never aligned on day one, leading to miscommunication and unrealistic expectations overtime. A strategy conversation today can change dramatically in 6 months.

Good Omen: Understand the Complexities of PR

I had a potential client email me last month, saying he wanted us to launch a campaign in two days, tied to the Fed announcement. His email said, “if you want to show you have good connections, can you place me on CNBC, Fox Business and Bloomberg in that order of priority in the morning.” 

First off, connections don’t lead to media placements. Great story angles get you coverage. And you can’t explain a complicated ETF fund or story angle without a conversation. The fact that he emailed me to get him coverage in 2 days without explaining the fund suggested he didn’t understand the complexities of PR.

Ten years ago, I might have pushed for a phone call to learn more. Today, I’d rather spend that valuable time with my son and work with a client who appreciates the value and relationship that our agency brings to every campaign. In fact, if they’re a kind client, we’d probably even give them extra hours based on our empathy for their financials.


Marketing peers named MACIAS PR the 2017-2021 Strategic PR Firm of the Year. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, Finance Monthly named MACIAS PR the Financial PR Firm of the Year. The founder – Mark Macias – is a former Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York. City & State Magazine named him a PR Political Power Player in 2021.