Agency insights—how clients negotiate successful PR contracts

by | Apr 30, 2019 | Analysis, Public Relations

Public relations experts do more than distribute public communication and write press releases. The best PR specialists are expert negotiators, monitoring the mood of those impacted by an organization’s declarations, decisions, and actions. PR requires a negotiation mindset to balance the organization’s needs, interests, and desires with those of other stakeholders.

PR practitioners can benefit from negotiations training designed to help formulate win-win scenarios between their organizations and the public. As a PR practitioner, there are some key pointers to keep in mind when negotiating a PR contract.

The terms affect not only your pay but your ability to perform. Here are some key pointers to negotiate a functional PR contract whether you’re a PR pro or a firm ready to hire a PR agency.

Get it in writing

There are at least three types of PR pros when categorized by employment models. There are in-house, agency, and independent contractors. Agency practitioners may often be dependent on their agencies to negotiate contract terms. In-house practitioners may rely on a standard employment contract. Independent consultants are mostly self-reliant unless they hire professional managers and lawyers.

In the three cases, the PR pro may need negotiation training to get the most favorable working terms. The agreed-upon terms need to be in writing to keep things professional and avoid unnecessary disputes.

Whatever your role, a written contract acts as an important reference tool for communicating the expectations of the relationship. Some of the legal documents to negotiate and have in writing include:

  • Speaking agreements
  • Full contract of engagement
  • Event performance agreements
  • Non-disclosure agreements
  • Subcontractor agreements

Know your costs and worth

Once the negotiations for running a PR campaign turn to payment terms, it’s time for both the PR agent and the prospective client to understand what the campaign will be worth, how much it will cost, and the value expected.

The decision-makers may want to understand why the billing rates are as they are. Managers and PR practitioners may need to agree on timelines and budgets. The contract may need to stipulate whether it’s the PR practitioner, agency, or client that has to direct and pay vendors and subcontractors.

A class in PR negotiations can help sway discussions on the roles of those involved. Roles like who covers travel and office expenses? Who does the media buying? All these cost-related contract terms should be clearly stipulated in the PR contract.

Establish scope

As a PR practitioner with negotiation training, you get used to calls for emergency sessions. Whether it’s announcing a change in management, or responding to negative media references, you want to provide the best possible service. However, you don’t want to be caught unawares in the middle of a media frenzy unprepared for the numerous questions being fired at you.

When negotiating your PR contract, establish the scope of your relationship and act to avoid scope creep. Know the specifics of terms agreed on and avoid over-servicing. For the firm hiring a PR professional, agree on terms to avoid under-servicing. Make sure the written contract stipulates the activities of your PR plan. Take steps to claim extra value whenever your client needs extra work done.

Define and agree on achievable goals

Without talking over the PR plan, miscommunication can occur over the PR plan and desired goals. Negotiations make it possible for both sides to understand the relationship’s PR goals and to prioritize the kind of exposure required to meet those goals.

With a negotiation seminar, you can learn how to ask direct and succinct questions to narrowly define the client’s press needs and devise a strategic approach. Reach a consensus on the achievable goals. Put the PR plan in writing to ease the process of crafting a roadmap with the end objectives in mind.

Look at historical campaigns

A PR consultant and a potential client may hit it off right away, with a gut feeling that the connection may result in the perfect relationship. When a gut feeling is further supported by a successful track record, then a positive relationship can begin forming.

Apart from checking out credentials, look at the historical campaigns, testimonials from past engagements, and case studies. The best PR practitioner should have the right balance of expertise, experience, and natural confidence backed up with substantiated examples. The best client will have a history of living up to promises, implementing PR suggestions, and avoiding conflict with the PR team.

Separate people from issues

PR plans are designed to be emotive. The PR practitioner is supposed to help the client create positive public emotions towards their company and products.

As such, PR practitioners may find it difficult to separate between their feelings towards the client and the contract being discussed.

Maybe the client has a bad reputation or was recently mentioned in a controversial issue. Such feelings can cause a bias against the client and affect the achievement of a campaign’s goals.

The PR practitioner can use negative mentions to illustrate the difficulty of the PR plan. However, it would be unprofessional to use personal feelings against the management or an individual working with the client’s team. Be practical in your negotiations and leave out negative emotions that may compromise performance.

Milena Gallo
Milena Gallo is the resident editor at The Negotiation Experts, which trains global companies to negotiate better.


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