5 Tips to Handle Fees in a High-Profile Crisis


Have you ever had a potential client come to you urgently saying he/she needs help dealing with a high-profile problem, a crisis or a bet-the-company issue? If so, you're part of an exciting PR club.

A high-profile or crisis client can be intriguing and profitable, but it brings intangibles and unexpected fee twists you might have failed to anticipate.

Before taking on a high-profile client, figure out the parameters and expectations, and staff and bill the account accordingly. Determine your fee and then insert an add-on over your fee because the work will require something extra – sort of a high-profile surcharge.

In the case of a bet-the-company crisis, get a five figure, non-refundable fee up front and bill a high hourly rate after that. This covers initial meetings, a proposal, gearing up and staffing up. If the media is all over it already, it covers that, too.

But why seek a surcharge or an upfront fee and then a high hourly fee? For any number of reasons:

Is media training needed? How famous is the client? What if the high-profile client makes a flub in a crisis? What if the client doesn't like media ground rules? How do you handle eight requests from the same network, and what's your rate for the client as a TV talking head when something like the killing of Osama Bin Laden happens? Or what if the crisis ends quickly? You could make much less, hence the upfront fee.

Fee Case Studies from High-Profile/Crisis PR: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

1) An NGO client wanted to launch a high-profile PR program. The NGO raised funds. This was one of my best-paid clients and there was no drama over fees.

2) An aviation company executive had a personal crisis. I proposed a high bill upfront. It was negotiated down. In the end, the fee never materialized. A lesson: sometimes you have to bill for a crisis PR proposal and a call or a first meeting. After all, the client is picking your brain and expertise. Why give it away?

3) A corporate governance dispute required PR in a short, bet-the-company campaign. It arrived with enough fees and an up-front payment.

4) A private school president had a personal and business crisis. The first time, the crisis came and went: no fees. Fool me once, but not twice. The second time the president asked for a meeting, I billed it and it was paid on the spot. And then the crisis abated.

5) A consultant and a top executive had two high-profile crisis-type issues tied together. One was time sensitive; the other was a bet-the-company project to right a PR ship that sank lower than the Titanic. They led me on and on – asking for numerous proposals and wouldn't divulge a budget. So I finally billed them for time to date and walked away.

Besides your time in some of the situations above, you've given a potential client your PR intellectual property. And if they don't move ahead on the crisis PR, you're out fees and your IP.

You can win some and lose some in these situations but make your best attempt to get the big upfront fee. A PR crisis requires a lot of skill and work and you or your agency are worth it.


  • Bill for a first meeting and a proposal since this is far from a run-of-the-mill PR issue. The crisis could end quickly and/or the client could be shopping around and this first-meeting fee may be all you receive.
  • Ask for a big, non-refundable, upfront fee. Then go high hourly. Don't start working until the upfront fee is paid.
  • Have the client sign a PR contract with legal protections for you and your agency. Have a lawyer bullet-proof it.
  • Tell the client all of the above is because this is a critical project for both of you. And you're worth it.
  • It almost goes without saying, but if the above conditions are met give the client his/her money's worth. If most of the above conditions are unmet, walk away. The client may not be serious or lack the money to pay.

Andrew Blum is principal of AJB Communications, a PR consultant and media trainer. Contact him at: ajbcomms@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms