907.529.2391 | mary@barbergp.com

Guaranteed Results for Public Relations? Say It Isn’t So!

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.Rubber stamp guarantee

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?


By |2018-03-18T22:51:04+00:00November 8th, 2011|Leadership & Networking|5 Comments

About the Author:

Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, runs a strategic communications consultancy where she helps clients understand how to integrate new media into traditional communication programs. Mary has counseled clients in Tacoma, Anchorage, San Francisco, Oregon, and Colorado for nearly 40 years working with a variety of food organizations, several agencies, and as a key team member on two successful US Senate campaigns. 


  1. EricaAllison November 10, 2011 at 6:15 am - Reply

    Oh, Mary Barber! This is a topic near and dear to me and one that I struggle with routinely. I would love to guarantee results, but I don’t and can’t. Like you, when someone wants that sort of guarantee I either recognize that it’s not a fit or that there’s some other option.

    Let’s be fair here, it’s natural, especially in this economy, for people to want a guaranteed ROI. Is it likely to happen? No. What I do is suggest we look at their overall business goals, develop a strategy (which is what they would pay me to do), and then work from the strategy to meet those goals. Should we be measuring our efforts? Absolutely. Is it always tied to our fees, yes and no.

    Putting myself in their shoes, I would want to make sure I get something out of the money that I’m paying to the consultant. I’ve had one client say that he’d like to see 2.5 x my fee in new business. I said I couldn’t guarantee that, but I’d certainly work towards generating brand awareness, telling their story in a way that would catch the eye of new business. It also was important that I understood how my fee related to the profit from one or two clients. If we’re comparing apples to apples, that’s one thing. If we’re comparing pencils to laptops, that’s another.

    This is a very important question Mary, that I think we’ll see a shift in answers in the coming years. If we don’t begin to accommodate those requests in some shape or form, we’ll continue to see less than stellar impressions of our industry. Again, I’m not suggesting guarantees, but rather benchmarks and measurements that demonstrate progress. That’s where the education and value system will begin to take shape.

    • mdbarber November 10, 2011 at 11:11 am - Reply

      @EricaAllison Thanks for stopping and commenting Erica. I hear what you’re saying but my experience has been that the people who are asking these questions are often looking at price in combination with someone handling the project with the client’s involvement. I believe we succeed best when working in partnership with clients. It makes us both smarter and more apt to be successful. What’s most important is to sit down and talk through the “charge” and how success will be measured before starting the work. Otherwise you’re both working with different measures.

      The client you mention is a good example, as is the way you handled it with him. However, I don’t think you should be penalized if you do all that you both agreed to, and the sales didn’t improve to his satisfaction. There are so many other factors involved in sales which you can’t affect within a pre-supposed timeline.

      I do think we’re going to see more of these requests but at the same time, I’m happy that I’m seeing more folks wanting to work in partnership to affect the change they want to see.

  2. ayatlin November 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this thought provoking post Mary. I’m not a consultant, but it is good to be able to define what PR professionals do. I think building a stonger relationshop in the beginning is key to successful partnership and lends well to better results.

    • mdbarber November 14, 2011 at 7:06 pm - Reply

      @ayatlin You are right Angela. Stronger relationships are key…to this and many other aspects of our profession.

  3. fergusonsarah November 14, 2011 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    This is a very sensitive topic.. I really love to know your reactions about this.. Very interesting..

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.