Last week I passed the 12-year mark with my public relations consulting business. During that period, I’ve been blessed to work with some outstanding clients – more than 70 of them in a wide variety of industries.
Before going out on my own in 2002, I spent a decade with advertising and PR agencies in Chicago and Nashville, where I worked with clients from local to national levels. So, all together, it’s safe to say that I’ve served well over a hundred clients in my career.
After 22 years in the agency business, when someone approaches me to help with a company’s PR needs, I’ve learned to ask a lot of questions up front to make sure I understand what the prospect really is after, whether he/she has realistic expectations, and how success with be determined and measured.
I’ve also identified a number of red-flag questions. Some of those questions (or statements) are covered in this PR Daily article “8 things you should never say to PR agency pros” by Dorothy Crenshaw, CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications.
My two favorites from her list are:
- How much for a press release?
- We’re looking at 30 agencies and hope you’ll want to participate.
I decided to create my own list of questions I’ve heard from prospective clients over the course of my agency career that caused me (and sometimes my colleagues) to pause. They weren’t always in these exact words, but here’s the gist of what they were asking:
- We don’t have much of a budget – can you help us anyway?
- What will it cost us to work with you?
- How much publicity can you get us?
- How long will it take to get results?
- What would it take to get us on (name a national media outlet)?
- If we have x dollars to spend on advertising or PR, how much should we spend on PR?
- Can you guarantee us we’ll get a certain number of media hits?
- Are your fees negotiable?
- Can we try you out for 30 days and see how it goes?
- Are you willing to tie your compensation to your results?
The short answer to most of these questions is “it depends.” For me, a couple of them are “no” responses, though that can vary from agency to agency.
But the real point is that the questions themselves may indicate a misunderstanding of how public relations works and the costs associated with it.
The most efficient way for a client to work with an agency is to first have clearly thought through what it is they want PR to accomplish for them and how it will integrate strategically into other marketing efforts.
Having a budget established upfront helps a PR professional determine how to get maximum value for the client instead of wasting time trying to guess what that client is willing or able to pay.
And while professional skills and competence are vital, I’m convinced that trust is at the core of any successful client-agency relationship, and that character is every bit as important as sound strategy, outstanding service and dynamic creative.
One of my former agency colleagues used to say it boils down to this when a potential client selects an outside person to help accomplish something: Do I like this person, do I trust this person and can this person get the job done?