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Anne Buchanan, president of our PRGN affiliate Buchanan Public Relations in Philly, posted a question on Facebook earlier this week about how it is that Olympic coaches can work with two competing athletes, yet PR agencies find that they are conflicted out when asked to represent competing companies.

I thought it was a great blog topic so here’s the result.

We’ve always believed that we do a disservice to a client if we are doing work for a similar and/or competing client in the same industry in the same market.  A couple of our clients have asked that it be stated in our contract that we won’t accept the work.  We do believe our expertise in certain categories presents us with opportunities to work with other clients so we will often pursue these opportunities in other markets.

But an interesting thing has started to happen – there are a few clients that don’t seem to mind that we might take on another client in their category.  As long as we can service the business with different account teams and don’t share proprietary information, they trust us to do what we’ve been hired to do and to be the ethical practitioners that they know us to be.

I took a look at the Code of Ethics on the PRSA website and it would appear that the industry agrees with our clients.  According to the guidelines, members of the association shall:

Encourage clients and customers to determine if a conflict exists after notifying all affected parties.

In other words, it is the client’s perspective regarding conflict that is the prevailing opinion.  If after discussing it both parties agree that the agency can do the work for both, then go for it.

So taking it back to the Olympics question, that must also be the reason why for them – if the competing athletes don’t have a problem with sharing the coach, then the coach is free to work with more than one athlete.

Agency folks – what do you think, can we take on more than one client in an industry?  And from the client side – what are your feelings on this subject?

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio


  1. David Landis says:

    Abbie – great post. I’ve often felt that we actually can do a BETTER job for clients if we handle a multitude of clients within a certain sector. Say, for instance, that we represent different clients both of whom play in the “sustainable” space. We know that space better, we build better relationships with the media because of it and we can even include both clients in some features that would warrant inclusion for both. The key as you say is clearing it with all parties in advance. Sometimes encouraging clients that it’s not a conflict – but an opportunity – is warranted. Cheers, David

  2. […] that she thought this query would be the basis of a great blog post. I agreed. Abbie wrote a blog post on Friday that talked about her agency’s approach to this situation, along with PRSA’s […]

  3. Aaron Blank says:

    We focus on not serving the same client in the same industry with the same service needs. If and when a conflict may arise, we tell both clients about the potential issue and work through it with them. Once, when we serviced three hospital systems in Seattle, we created internal firewalls with separate teams working on the business. All clients were aware but the work was different. Hospital A work was community affairs. Hospital B work was public relations and digital services. Hospital C was an issue that they needed help resolving.

    Today, we service just one hospital system in our market, which is a fairly robust system.

    We are focused on opportunities outside our local market.

    Bottom line, be transparent with your clients and have them help you make the decision before you turn away business. Relationships matter and that is what you need to focus on, first.

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