September 10, 2012
The Bad PR Habit Your PR Team Needs to Break: Over-Servicing
Train Your Team to Use Measurable Goals and Metrics that Promote Fair Compensation and Profitability
By Kristin Jones, CEO, Wallop! OnDemand
Most PR professionals have the people-pleaser gene embedded in their DNA. Saying "yes" and then finding a way to follow through on that promise is what we do. This make-it-happen attitude is part of what makes us good at our profession. But, every now and then it backfires. An example of this is when our good intentions lead us to commit to PR tasks that are beyond a project's budgetary scope. Over-servicing is a common occurrence in the PR industry and it causes a lot of headaches for PR teams, especially PR agency teams. While some PR pros would argue that clients and executives pressure PR to do more than its fair share, the harsh reality is that if your PR team is stuck in a cycle of over-servicing clients (either external companies or your internal executive team) YOU are responsible for the majority of your own stress. But you can avoid digging yourself into this thankless, frustrating hole by educating your team on how to manage budgets and use metrics that support realistic expectations.
Fight the plague of over-servicing
Over-servicing is a problem for several reasons: It isn't profitable, it causes frustration and burnout on the PR side, and it almost always leads to disappointment for the internal or external client. It strains client-agency relations and can even result in agencies or corporate team members being replaced.
When I hear frustrated PR colleagues talk about their struggles with over-servicing, I am reminded of a lesson my parents tried to impress upon me when I was younger: People will treat you as you allow yourself to be treated. Ever-pleasing PR professionals should keep this message in mind. PR teams need to be aware of the precedent they set when they over-deliver and give work away for free. Because once you blur the billing lines it is only a matter of time before things snowball out of control. To be clear, I'm not talking about taking on the occasional pro bono client—that scenario is different because both sides share an understanding that PR services will be provided free of charge. Instead, I'm referring to situations where PR provides freebies when it should be charging those services against the PR budget.
Over-servicing isn't necessary to keep clients and executives happy. In fact, most are more appreciative when results are consistent and proportionate to the PR spend. If you want to set realistic expectations for clients and ensure your team doesn't feel taken advantage of, follow these rules and avoid the slippery slope of over-servicing:
Keep expectations in check by measurably defining deliverables
When goals are not clearly defined, a project's scope can spiral out of control. Clients and executives frequently make requests for PR teams to book just a few more interviews, earn a little extra coverage, drive additional web traffic and so on. The problem is that PR gets caught between trying to please clients and trying to remain profitable. To solve this problem it helps to set measurable PR goals that you can "check-off" once they are completed. This will help put parameters around projects and squash the urge to give away free add-ons. It also gives you time and budget boundaries that you can renegotiate should clients or management get "brilliant ideas" that amount to "project creep"—which means extra time and expenses.
Track "goal vs. actual" results
"Goal vs. actual" is a useful metric for every PR team to use for managing clients and its own efforts. A good tool to help conquer over-servicing is a "goal vs. actual" coverage grid. This helps you record things such as how many interviews you wanted to secure vs. how many you actually secured. When you measure results this way you can show when a goal has been met. Clients will be less likely to push PR for more results if you've already met the agreed upon goals. And, your team won't feel pressured to do things such as drum up more coverage at the last minute in order to satisfy a vague objective.
Give account managers support and training on how to manage budgets
Of course not every account or PR manager has a strong financial background. Many people in this role are creative types who have less experience working with the budget side of things. It is advantageous to put all account managers through training on how to successfully manage budgets. It seems obvious, but giving work away for free is a surefire way to bust your budget. Managers who understand this will be more apt to stand up against over-servicing.
There's a saying that "the numbers will set you free." This applies to budgets, of course, but it also applies to metrics on all the PR work you do.
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