PR Insider: Sticky Client Time and Money Issues

These days, we have a lot of parts to our jobs as PR people. Getting PR for clients is almost the easy part sometimes. The hard part can be, as I have recently learned and relearned, dealing with some potential clients about proposals and money – even before they become clients.

Andrew Blum
Andrew Blum

Have you ever had a potential client ask for a proposal and then it just sits there – and dies – with no response at all? Or have you been asked to put all the specifics – I mean 101% -- of your entire PR plan (versus a comprehensive outline) into the proposal before you are even paid one cent? Or after submitting a proposal for pay or a retainer, have you then been asked to work on purely results-driven basis?

I understand the concept of proposals but somewhere it's gotten off track. Many potential or new clients are great in this part of the process but some aren't and the proposal – with time and money spent to create it – goes into a black hole. This can happen after some of the proposals are of the hurry-up kind – we need it ASAP, the client says.

So, after a while the question becomes, should there be a small fee for a potential client if you write them a PR proposal or meet with them? I have spoken to several PR colleagues about this and have gotten mixed reactions to the idea. Just to be clear, in discussing this issue, I am not talking about the formal, competitive RFP process where there can be many agencies bidding on the PR work. I am talking either just you or a small roster of agencies.

Before I get into more detail on this, I want to discuss another thorny issue – the potential client who asks if you can work on a PR success basis.

Yes, this kind of thing does happen. And it can be even more problematic than the issue of charging fees for a proposal. Many of the PR people I spoke to about this one said it doesn’t work. I agree – and while I can't work on spec, I am always open to giving a client the best work for their needs and budget. In this instance, I can see negotiating on a project fee amount or a monthly retainer, then building in bonuses for PR success in certain target or top-tier media. A client isn't going to work for nothing for their clients and neither should a PR person.

But in the case of proposals, should a potential client expect something for nothing, especially if they take a lot of your time and then don't act either way on the proposal? And I can't see giving a potential client a free full PR roadmap – unless it turns into a paid arrangement. Giving that full roadmap can backfire in several ways if you're not selected. I feel once you are hired, full specifics of a plan are then due.

Would a small fee charged for this make it seem more serious to a potential client? I don't know for sure. One PR person I talked to about this concept said all a fee might do is piss a potential client off. The same PR person said one way around this is to spend as little time as possible on a proposal, or in his words, not a lot of time.

Let's take these apart and analyze them: I think a fee could make a potential client take a proposal more seriously. If you're left hanging it couldn't get any worse. If it angers someone, well, again, if there is a lack of a response anyway, so be it but at least you are due a small fee. As to not spending a lot of time on a proposal, sometimes that can't be avoided but you're spending some time period.

I know in PR and in general in society today, we've been accustomed to not hearing back from people – everyone is too busy, there is too much email or information overload.

But would a potential client treat their own potential client this way? I wonder.

In raising these issues, I'm not saying I know all the answers. But I think these are things worth thinking about for PR people and merit some discussion.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms.

  • fontbandit

    For a returning client, the planning process can be baked into the end of each year’s plan. For a new client, consider an up-front planning budget, or delivering a proposal with a clause that if a deal is not struck within 30 days of the proposal’s delivery, the potential client must compensate you a set amount for the plan. Both are reasonable asks, will save you from “idea-farming” and ensure you’re compensated for your time and experience. Never go results-based, even though you’re sure you’ll be able to deliver great results. Once you’ve spent your time on something, you can’t recover that time. If you’re good, your time is worth a fair market price.