I am asked in almost every meeting with a potential client what the cost of public relations really is. They are immediately thinking about their budgets, their “wish list” and worrying about what can and cannot be done, rather than what should be done. The negative effects hiring the wrong public relations firm can have on your business can be far reaching: from your bottom line to your pipeline, and beyond.
Business owners need to focus more on what a solid, sophisticated public relations firm will do for them, rather than on the cost of that firm. There are a lot of excellent public relations professionals providing sophisticated service or a very reasonable sum. Many years ago, I realized that clients were watching their watches more than they were watching our work; that was when we abandoned the industry standard of hourly billing and moved into flat fee-based service. It was amazing to see how there was a polar shift in our client’s behavior – from worrying about dollars going out – to celebrating the successes together.
Most agencies don’t like to talk about budgets and numbers up front with potential clients, but I tell them that it is more important to look at the team you are working with, the track record of those people, and the experience behind them first, and not the dollars you will spend. (Obviously the dollars are important, but they should not be the most important part of the equation.) You see, a successful agency will bring you customers, and should be willing to grow with you and your business. A former client once asked us to “put some skin in the game” with them; they asked us to bet on ourselves as a team (the team of all of us together) with a greater reward on the back end. I agreed and it turned out to be one of our most profitable experiences ever. Our profit spanned much further than the dollar.
Through this experience we learned that to really work with a client effectively and gain their trust, we needed to become a real “team” with them. We have done this many ways since then (most do not include cost-sharing) but each time we commit to working together as a real team, we enter into a stronger partnership with out clients.
Nowadays, there are all kinds of ways to judge a public relations firm. Measuring ROI is an everyday occurrence, but detailing the means of measurement is what changes from client to client. When I meet with companies that are struggling with the cost of effective public relations and marketing, I tell them that you can’t budget success because success means something different to each of us. The only way you can understand and communicate effectively in your measurement of success is to set goals both parties agree on as the first objective in working together.
There are many different types of public relations professionals – from levels of experience to how we do our craft. Truly effective public relations should pay for itself time and time again in your brand awareness, your partnering programs, your mindshare with the target markets you want to reach and so much more. I would challenge every decision maker to challenge themselves, to not only measure the ROI of an agency, but the ROI of themselves as a team member as well. Remember, when we all work together as a team cohesively, we all win and our successes are that much greater!