Almost since the beginning of my consulting career, I’ve dealt with clients who want guaranteed results for the work I do. I have never worked that way and hope you haven’t either. How I handle the discussion with prospective clients varies depending on the project but, in my opinion, is based on the fact our profession is art and not science. We are skilled in our art, but can’t always guarantee that our work will generate the results a client wants.
I find that the stronger the partnership between client and agency/consultant, the more likely everyone will be happy in the end. When I’m talking with a prospect, I look for that partnership and its absence often signals the end of discussions.
It also seems to me that until more companies understand our craft, we’ll continue to be dealing with this issue. The Public Relations Society of America’s Business Case for Public Relations includes a lot of the tools we can use to help tell our story. The resources available include definitions and helpful articles pertaining to the value of public relations and various aspects of public relations pertaining to strategy, measurement and how the craft fits within corporations for maximum effectiveness. The Business Case was initially developed by a committee of industry leaders. Today, PRSA regularly adds to the content using a wide variety of subject matter experts.
Knowing the business case for public relations is only part of the battle. We also need to understand our Code of Ethics and make sure our clients understand its importance to our practice and the profession in general. When working with new clients I like to discuss the Code with them in conjunction with my own professional credentials. This helps them to understand the strategic nature of our business.
Earlier this week, I was contacted about doing some fundraising for an upcoming event. The prospective client and I talked (well, emailed) about the project and discussed rates. Because it was going to be a “decision by committee” some of my danger signs were already evident. However, after learning my rates, the next email asked if there was a correlation between my rate and the amount of money raised or if the client “hoped for the best.”
Because this was a fundraising project, I immediately looked at the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethics where guaranteed results are prohibited. That’s all fine but how do you explain it in a way the prospect can understand. I chose to compare our profession to lawyers and accountants who also charge hourly for their work. I asked the prospect if he would consider asking them to guarantee results in exchange for their fee. He agreed that was a fair question but in the end, we also agreed that the relationship wasn’t the best for both of us for a variety of reasons.
Choosing clients needs to involve mutual respect for each other and a partnership. I know some professionals who work well with guaranteed results but most do not. What has been your experience? How do you handle the question when it’s asked by prospective clients?