How would you charge for public relations services?

We received an email from a new public relations practitioner asking how he should charge for his services. I’d like to share his email and my response.

The question:

I’m an up and coming media/PR consultant.  I was in the media industry for 13 years and now I’m looking to develop my own consulting business.  …

Recently, I acquired my first client.  I’ll be paid on a per project basis. The client wants me to work on a social networking website campaign I suggested.  Basically, I’ll be putting together this small business’ Facebook and Twitter pages.  I’m trying to figure out how much I can charge this business.  Should I go with a per hour rate?  If so, how much?  Or a flat rate? If so, how much?  I’m also trying to determine how long it will take to build traffic and interest to these social networking pages.  I’m guessing it’ll take 4 to 5 months for any substantial growth.  This company is looking at this campaign as a new way to attract interest to its website/store.
I’d appreciate any thoughts as to how much I can charge.

My answer:

What you charge depends on the overhead you must carry (your needs), the value to the client (what you should charge), the budget of the client (what you may only be able to charge.) Bottom line, I’d start by asking for a fee equal to what I think the project will be worth the the client based on anticipated results. Then, if they cannot afford this, you can decide whether to negotiate an acceptable fee.

Your thoughts:

How would you answer this question? What’s the right way to charge for public relations services?

Questions to Ask and Answer When Hiring a Public Relations Partner

By David Gordon
Executive Vice President, Cohn & Wolfe

Or…What I really wish I’d known before our first date.

Unlike the dating process, where dinner and a movie can quickly screen out unsuitable matches, identifying a good agency/client relationship can be a time consuming and expensive proposition.

To ensure the expectations of a ‘perfect date’ are matched by reality, both parties should be prepared to ask, and answer, a variety of intimate questions before the doorbell even rings:

1.    Is this your first time? (Experience)
Agency – outline experience in the client’s business and related sectors.  Clearly demonstrate the relevance to the assignment at hand.
Client – describe your experience with public relations, including in-house capabilities.  If new, demonstrate a willingness to learn what is necessary to be a good partner.

2.    Who will be coming on our date? (The team)
Agency – introduce the team and their roles.  In particular, introduce the day-to-day account manager and confirm the role of senior staff to demonstrate they are not just there for ‘the pitch’.
Client – provide a day-to-day contact and confirm they will be available to meet with the agency, approve materials and stick-handle projects through the company.

3.    What do you like to do for fun?  (Risk and Creativity)
Agency – demonstrate your creativity.  Show how you have used different approaches to meet client objectives in the past.
Client – clearly articulate your corporate culture – are you willing to try new ideas or are you more comfortable with tried and true methods of communication.

4.    Are we speaking the same language? (RFP vs. RFI vs. RFQ)
Each of these mechanisms is distinctly different and it is important to both parties that they be appropriately used.  RF = Request For; P = Proposal; I = Information; or Q = Qualifications.
Agency – an RFP should ask you to provide a strategy and tactics to meet a specific scenario or respond to a series of clearly stated questions.  For an RFI or RFQ, it should be a simpler process (which may lead to an RFP) that asks for information about your firm and capabilities.
Client – the request should be well laid out and easily understood.  Using a document designed for advertising or engineering is not always relevant to public relations. Make sure scenarios are clearly articulated and appropriate information is provided.  Be prepared to answer questions and share responses with all bidders.  Provide appropriate timelines and rules.

5.    Do I look good in this? (Situation analysis)
Agency – demonstrate insight into the competitive challenges currently facing the client.
Client – open the closet and share your knowledge.  This is an opportunity to demonstrate your willingness to work with a team.  No one knows your business as well as you.

6.    How will we know if things are working out? (Objectives and Results)
Agency – articulate what you will measure and how it relates back to the client’s business objectives.
Client – clearly state your objectives and work with the agency to set reasonable expectations.

7.    How do you feel about commitment? (Project relationships vs. AOR)
Agency – be willing to prove yourself based on a project.
Client – be open to the benefits of an ongoing relationship, which include having an educated agency account team with a diversity of experience constantly looking for opportunities on your behalf.

8.    Have you had your shots? (References)
Agency – provide the names and numbers of previous and current clients.  If they are no longer clients, explain why.
Client – look at the client list and references and see how many are long-term.  If the agency seems to have always been dating but never married, find out why.

9.    Who is buying dinner?  (Budget and Finances)
Agency – budgets should set out the number of hours required to complete the assignment, along with the team resources dedicated to it.  Billing rates, administrative fees, and mark-up policies should all be clearly laid out.
Client – don’t expect the agency to work for free, but expect budget accountability and ROI.  If there are budget limitations these should be established in advance.

10.    Where do we go from here?  (Strategy and Tactics – First Steps)
Agency – provide a timetable of what needs to happen in the first 30, 60 and 90 days in order to deliver the program.  Set up a management model of how you will work together.  Be passionate about the strategy you provide – relationships might survive without passion, but they aren’t as much fun.
Client – make an investment in your new relationship.  Hold an education session for the account team, so they can learn as much about your business as possible in a short time.  You will be better off in both the immediate and long-term by putting as much into the relationship as you take out.

Dan Tisch joins the Board of the Global Alliance for PR and Communications Management

Dan Tisch

Dan Tisch

CCPRF member and Argyle Communications president Daniel Tisch has been named Canada’s representative on the executive board of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, the umbrella association linking PR professional associations around the world.

Tisch was nominated for the position by the Canadian Public Relations Society and elected at the Global Alliance’s annual meeting.

You can read more on the Argyle Website.

Congratulations Dan!

What is it you do again?

By Carol Panasiuk, APR
Senior Vice President, Cohn & Wolfe

Usually it’s my mother who asks me to explain what exactly I do but every now and then I am asked by a prospective client what the differences are between various marketing disciplines and articulate what we do in a public relations agency.

Perhaps the following example may help:

“… if the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday’, that’s advertising.  If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion.  If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed, that’s publicity.  If you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations.  If the town’s citizens buy tickets and go to the circus, that’s sales.” *  I would add to the example and say that if the elephant suddenly goes berserk and tramples people at the circus, that’s crisis communications.  If animal rights protesters show up at the circus, that’s issues management.

Public relations include ongoing activities to ensure a company or organization has a strong public image. Public relations activities are designed to help the public understand the company and its products. Often, public relations are conducted through the media, that is, newspapers, television, magazines, etc. – – that activity is called media relations.

So what is publicity?  Publicity is the coverage or the mention in the media. Organizations usually have little control over the message in the media — at least not like they do in advertising.  Reporters and writers decide what will be said.  However, as experts in media relations, a public relations agency’s role is to encourage positive media coverage and facilitate the communication between a company and the reporter.

Does that make us publicists?  It does to an extent, but it’s not a label I’m comfortable with.  For me, it conjures up images of the Hollywood publicist who created stunts to ensure the movie star was always front page news.  The latest trend (primarily in the U.S.), is the self-promoting publicist – – one even had her own reality show on MTV!  Thankfully, most public relations professionals still believe that getting media coverage for a client is more important than getting it for themselves.

Bottom line: public relations goes far beyond publicity and the role of the PR agency is narrow if it is only involved in generating media coverage.  Public relations is truly a communications function that reaches out to a myriad of stakeholders.  It encompasses everything from employee and investor relations to government relations and issues management.  Media relations is an important activity and needs to be done well, but the other elements are critical to helping an organization tell its story and maintain a positive image.

* Readers’ Digest

Obama’s lesson lost on Ottawa

By Dan Tisch, President, Argyle Communications

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, we are told, is a clever strategist and a man of formidable intelligence. His supporters say he has changed and grown since taking office.

And yet, despite buying himself time by proroguing Parliament, his hold on power remains tenuous. Canada seems doomed to political instability at a time when we can least afford it.

The opposition parties seeking to topple the government are partially to blame; surely an economic crisis is the worst time to play political games.

However, there would have been no opportunity for their opportunism had the Prime Minister not misread the public mood on the biggest questions of our time.

When climate change became an existential concern for all of humanity, Canada took baby steps. When Canadians expected aggressive economic stimulus, the government hesitated.

Most devastating of all is the hardening of the Prime Minister’s image as a fierce partisan at a time when people want the precise opposite. In October, this hyper-partisanship cost him a majority government. If he continues along this path, it may cost him his job.

Much has been written about Barack Obama’s success in mobilizing millions of new voters and raising astonishing sums en route to a comfortable victory. He did so by articulating not a liberal (let alone leftist) solution to America’s ailments, but rather a vision in tune with the times: post-ideological and post-partisan.

CNN’s coverage of the presidential debates featured real-time meters of viewer opinion: at most flashes of partisanship, the candidates’ approval ratings went down. When they appealed to higher purposes or national unity, their ratings went up.

In his best moments, John McCain understood this. But with a campaign led by political generals still fighting the last war, the character assassins and ideological sharpshooters inadvertently fired on themselves. Sadly, Harper’s strategists seem to be cut from the same cloth.

Canadians are in a mood similar to our American neighbours: In an atmosphere of petty partisanship, we stayed away from the polls in record numbers and elected a minority Parliament that reflected both our apathy and our ambivalence.

We have seen politicians put partisanship aside before, usually at times of crisis. Winston Churchill’s multi-partisan war cabinet is perhaps the most famous example of the 20th century.
Today, however, the public’s desire to move beyond partisanship and ideology seems deeper than ever. Attachment to political parties is at a historic low, and engagement in social networks and movements is at a historic high.

The operating principles of social media – including authenticity, intimacy and agility – are inconsistent with blind partisanship, rigid ideology and Ottawa’s obsessive control of its ministers, mandarins, messages and media.

Our political culture punishes the few independent thinkers in our parties, far more so than in the U.S. or the U.K. The parties themselves still wield great power, but are largely irrelevant as venues for debate. What hope is there for ordinary partisans when even members of the cabinet have little influence in the government?
In this bleak environment, there remains hope that a new leader or political movement will arise or adapt to the post-partisan age. It is unlikely and perhaps unreasonable to expect an Obama-like figure to emerge in Canada anytime soon.

There is, however, a golden opportunity for Canada’s political classes to learn a lesson from his ascent – one that is both fundamental and yet paradoxical: moving beyond partisanship may be the very best boost of your partisan cause.

Daniel Tisch, APR
President | Argyle Communications

Originally published in the Toronto Star, December 6, 2008

Where do you find facts about Canada’s public relations industry?

We received an email from a university student in search of data about Canada’s public relations industry.

I’m doing a term paper for one of my university courses and need to find information on the Canadian public relations industry facts such as market trends, demographics, economic, cultural and social factors.  This information is widely available for US market, however I cannot find anything on the Canadian market.
I would appreciate if you could let me know where I could find this type of information.

Good question. I have to be honest that I don’t have good sources for this information at my fingertips.

Do you have authoritative sources of information on Canada’s public relations industry that you rely upon?

The Value of Public Relations in a Softening Economy

By Pat McNamara

Marketers are once again feeling the squeeze of another economic hiccup as the convergence of the global credit crunch, inflation and the soaring dollar are hurting their pocket books.  As every marketing specialist knows, the corporate marketing budget is often the first casualty of a slumbering economy.

While this compulsion to halt the momentum of high times appears counterproductive, it is a reality many marketers must face.  Moreover, they are still expected to meet or exceed last year’s benchmarks despite a dwindling budget  There is an affordable and effective solution to weather this pressure — public relations.

I will be the first to admit the most powerful form of marketing and communications involves an integrated advertising and public relations strategy.  The former is unparalleled in building mass awareness and the latter is unmatched in bringing credibility and third party endorsements.  However, money is money and when it’s scarce and scattered over four quarters, public relations is a sensible solution.

So what is the value that public relations can bring to the table?

•    PR delivers:  Consumers’ reluctance and skepticism in a softening economy often translates to a need for more in-depth information.  PR can deliver a credible message through media relations, bylined articles, social media and even going directly to consumers through street campaigns.

•    Traditional is still effective:  Though it may appear old-fashioned, traditional means of getting out the message are actually some of the most effective. In fact the results of an independent research study, the APEX Influencer Report, indicate traditional media remain the most accessed and credible.  Carefully placed opinion pieces, bylined articles and press releases are just some of the cost-effective options available.

•    Time is on your side:  PR can turn on a dime.  A press release can be drafted within hours and a podcast can be produced virtually overnight. With public relations, an opportunity can be seized upon very quickly, which is crucial in a competitive business environment.

•    Getting online: With the proliferation of digital media, PR can now build mass marketing/media campaigns that transcend multiple channels, while maintaining the editorial integrity sought by consumers.

•    No worries about head count:  You can use experienced practitioners that you might not have in house, such as writers, designers or media trainers.  This also gives you access to their relationships with the media, government, special interest groups and other influencers.

•    Thinking in or outside the box: Public relations can provide the added creative kick you need. From placing a recruitment ad for hiring William Shatner as the new receptionist for Kellogg’s All Bran, to creating a series of coaching podcasts for BMO small business customers, PR can leverage your own internal creative ideas!

•     Make it measurable: As an industry, public relations has often been stigmatized for being unmeasurable. There is a new industry standard in town called Media Relations Points (MRP), a method that has been endorsed by both industry societies.

•    And most importantly, the cost: A public relations budget is typically 10 to15 per cent of a marketing budget. The great value of PR is that you can have a year-long campaign, or you can come in and out of the market at key times.

While at first blush a marketing budget cut might appear negative, think of it as an opportunity to get creative.  You can extend the advertising you do have and tie it into promotions and online contests; consider training your spokespeople to be not only experts on your products and services, but on the industry; send your products to influencers; try experimenting with your own blog.

A slower economy isn’t necessarily synonymous with an end to company positioning. By using public relations strategically, businesses can continue to deliver their messages while still reaching their target audiences.

Pat McNamara is the founder and President of APEX Public Relations Inc. and Chair of the Canadian Council of PR Firms.   For details of the APEX Influencer Report, go to

The Perils of RFP’s

By Patrick Gossage

They come in various forms and in various guises: requests for proposals, expressions of interest, requests for capabilities presentations, or in the case of some offshore corporations: “We’re coming to town on such and such a date and someone recommended your firm and we want to meet you.”

PR agencies are particularly vulnerable to putting a lot of effort out, only to find out that in fact the fix was in for another firm, that the company actually wanted to keep the incumbent, or worse they didn’t really need outside PR at all and were just on an idea shopping expedition.

Take this example from a well-known PR agency, which shall remain anonymous!

“About three years ago one of the world’s most opulent luxury airlines decided to bid out its business in Canada.  They were not flying here at the time – with no plans for the future.  There was no creative brief.

Nevertheless, we, like so many other Canadian agencies were up to the challenge of competing for the business and spent considerable time developing a comprehensive presentation to the airline’s spec — including a list of key media influencers and how to approach them.

In the end, no agency was hired, but the airline was fully equipped with all the inside knowledge of who and how to pitch their story; and not surprisingly took the work in-house and to its US agency”.

Worse still, many of us have gruesome examples of ideas we have presented in these beauty contests being outright stolen by the company, or the winning bidder. There is often little justice in the free-for-all of RFP’s.

With some exceptions. And they are very instructive and should be taken to heart by Canadian corporations.

The Ontario Provincial Government’s Advertising Review Board which doles out work to qualified PR firms for all outsourced government communications business over $25,000, has over the years, become an absolute model of fairness to our industry.

Not only does it discourage those participating in a competition from actually proposing strategic solutions or ideas relevant to the assignment (this solves the problem of stealing ideas), but it has a rigorous marking system to evaluate the agency’s capabilities related to the assignment. It is fair to a fault.

In addition their helpful staff is happy to tell you why you failed to win the assignment, where you scored lower than others. This is unprecedented in the world of RFP’s.

Even to be in the “pool” so that your agency is considered for Ontario Government assignments requires presenting and being marked on such relevant categories as Strategic Thinking/Problem solving.

Here you have to: Demonstrate how you solved a public relations problem with a strategic approach that made a measurable contribution to a client’s business.

If only private sector clients would make it a routine to rate us with such rigor!

Patrick Gossage, a veteran commentator, political strategist and PR practitioner is founder and Chairman of Media Profile and a  member of the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms.

Dan Tisch, President of Argyle Communications

Dan Tisch is President of Argyle Communications in Toronto. Recently, we had a conversation about how Argyle focuses its business and prepares for an economic downturn, the importance of measurement to public relations, the career path that Dan followed to the Presidency of Argyle, and the advice that Dan offers to young people attempting to land their first job in PR.

Argyle was established in 1979, making it one of Canada’s oldest independent PR firms. Noting that many of his current consultants weren’t even born when the firm was established, Dan observes, “There’s something about being associated with a firm that has this level of longevity that makes you think about communications and client relationships as a long-term process.”

Argyle focuses on “sectors of the economy that have a lot of growth and promise.” The firm’s areas of practice include consumer marketing (Nestle, Enterprise Rent a Car), corporate communications for public companies, technology communications and consumer health communications. Argyle is also one of the firms qualified in the Ontario government’s PR pool.

The team at Argyle takes award programs seriously, seeing that as a way to benchmark themselves against the industry. (We conducted our interview in front of a wall bearing numerous industry awards won by Argyle. Clearly, they’ve done well in pursuing this strategy.)

Dan sees an opening for PR firms in an economic downturn. Tough times drive marketers and corporations to examine their budgets and pare back activities that offer the lowest return on investment (ROI). Public relations firms can that public relations offers greater value for the marketing dollar than other forms of communication. Dan suggests that the demonstration of PR’s value should be an industry-wide initiative. (It’s worth noting that this is one of the primary objectives that the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms has defined for itself this year.)

Measurement is essential to demonstrating the value of public relations. And it has traditionally been public relations’ weakness. Dan feels that the Canadian PR industry is making good progress turning this situation around. He points to the Media Relations Rating Points (MRP) standard that has been defined in Canada. As this system evolves and is adopted by a broader range of users, it is providing not only a means of measuring audience, but also a means of measuring cost per contact, cost per impression and the ROI of public relations.

Politics and government have proven fertile ground for developing PR industry leaders. Dan comes out of this tradition. He started his career working for Canadian Cabinet Ministers and government departments. From there, he moved to Environics Communications. He became a partner in Argyle when Environics acquired the company in 2002 and the next year, he became Argyle’s President.

What advice does he offer to young people who want to break into the PR industry? “Get an academic grounding in PR. It is a differentiator that shows you know the basics” when you are seeking your first job. Secondly, research, learn and know the business you aspire to work in. Finally, have the right attitude. In the early part of your career, you’ll be asked to do many things, not just the things you may have set out to do. “You have to be versatile. You have to be adaptable. You have to be receptive to change.”

You can watch the complete video of our interview here.

Who says PR doesn’t have a sense of humour?

For most of the past 20 years, Terry Fallis has been my business partner – first at Hill and Knowlton and since 1995, at Thornley Fallis.

So it was big news today that Terry‘s novel The Best Laid Plans has been short-listed for the 2007 Steven Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

Terry and his novel are keeping some pretty impressive company. The other short-listed novels and authors are: Douglas Coupland The Gum Thief, Will Ferguson (Spanish Fly), Scott Gardiner (King John of Canada) and Ron Wood (And God Created Manyberries.) Past winners of the award include: Robertson Davies, Earle Birney, Pierre Berton, Harry Boyle, George Bain, Richard J. Needham, Max Ferguson, Farley Mowat, Mordecai Richler, Stuart McLean, and W.O. Mitchell.

The Best Laid PlansTerry originally launched the novel through a podcast reading.

I read the book when Terry published it and I have to say it kept me chuckling well into the evening.

It just goes to show that you will meet some of the most interesting (and funny) people at a public relations firm.