Monthly Archives: July 2019

A PR Agency Trail of Shame: “Inherent Value”

Is it a bumble bee, bell or some squelch from the cosmos that I keep hearing? It’s been constant for more than 25 years. And it’s driving me crazy.

I keep hearing this mantra in the public relations profession about the “inherent value” of PR. It’s a bullshit justification for charging ungodly rates to unknowing clients. There are agencies charging three, four and five times the amount they should be billing, based on their billable hours and results. Clients, especially large companies that don’t keep an eye on their AOR (agency of record) are getting plucked for a pretty penny.

And it hIMG_8715facks me off. I’ve worked at places where I’d argue this point, scope a project or program based on the work to be performed, the team members, profit margins and the like. I derive a number that is reasonable, fair and profitable. Then an agency principal or president – or managing director – requires an upcharge. In some cases, the upcharge is double the scoped estimate. It’s based on adding an “inherent value” quotient. Baloney. It’s about taking advantage of your client.

The other trick is to upcharge, overcharge and overpromise. The big guns at the agency dress up, sing and dance, and woo the prospect with all types of sex and sizzle. One the contract is signed and the work begins, sizzle becomes like steam from a pan—it slowly dissipates. And now a junior team takes on the task of account management, media relations and more. And making matters worse, the agency sends a client a second invoice—about 10 pages of line-item expenses: copies, faxes, phone logs, color copies, postage, office supplies, etc.

Painting a Dire Picture

It’s not a pretty picture. It’s so negative. But so real. I’m glad to say I’ve worked at some places where this game isn’t played. I’ve worked with PR masters, bosses and colleagues who share my disdain for such practices and worked their butts off to demonstrate integrity, value, effectiveness, client service, strong media relationships and more. These men and women are the mentors, leaders, teachers and employers that deserve success.

It’s no surprise that leadership is the key to a good agency or company. An agency owner or executive that doesn’t lead fails the team and the client. Example, let’s talk about The Billables-Type Agency. Revenue growth is its sole purpose. Churn doesn’t matter, employee retention doesn’t matter. There’s one agency where account leaders had to create financial forecasts every week, with the expectation that they would increase billings. Every week. It was an exercise of futility and fiction—a time-waster and fear-driver that resulted in account teams “selling” to clients instead of serving them. Interestingly, the “leaders” never asked about client satisfaction, strategies or success. Just dollars and sense.

The flip side is the Customer Agency. It’s a simple, straightforward “roll up your sleeves” approach to PR. You scope a project or program, and work within that framework. And bill accordingly. When scope begins to creep, you connect with your client and work out the issues. Most clients are reasonable this way. And most of all, they love when you do three things:

  • Start with expectations. Spell out the program, the expected results and what they should see from you and your team. Then spell out what you expect from them. Quality PR is a two-way street.
  • Be honest. Don’t play games, point fingers or blame others. Take the accolades when you do good but take the hit if you screw up.
  • Be thinking “Extra.” Giving away “extras” builds rapport and loyalty. Something as simple as sending an article of interest to a client is well worth the time – even when the article isn’t about business. I have one client where we exchange dachshund details, pics and stories.

So let’s put away the nonsense of “inherent value.” Let’s be genuine, work hard and make a good living. Honestly.  The result will be a workplace that’s not “barely bearable” but enjoyable. And for clients, it’ll mean a PR agency relationship that is positive, personal and profitable.

Now these are inherently valuable, don’t you think?


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