Engaging PR consultancy services


Organisations engaging the services of a public relations consultancy should note that it is a two-way relationship in which there will be expectations on both sides, many of which this text attempts to identify. On their side, clients might reasonably expect:

To get a return equal to or likely greater than first imagined when measured over the longer term

To experience total loyalty – there should be no conflicts of interest

To receive best service, full focus and attention in all matters – there should be no sliding scale of interest or of the consultancy’s willingness to satisfy

To get best judgement and advice in all key matters – senior partner involvement included

To be confident that there would be no cut-and-paste, no off-the-shelf advice, no short cuts; that recommendations would be specific to each situation and individually tailored to address the client’s particular need; that no stone would be left unturned when devising strategy – in terms of creativity and in terms of the realism and care taken in ‘thinking-through’ a recommendation  

To receive honest and straightforward opinion and advice, however unpalatable it might be

To be charged a fair and affordable fee, one that a reasonable person would regard as value

To expect enthusiasm and delight, as though the task was one the consultancy had always dreamed of handling

To expect a consultancy to face up to failings, and not shirk blame or seek to deflect responsibility if fault arises on its side

To expect that a consultancy would fess-up and decline, and not lie or pretend, if invited to present for an assignment likely to be beyond its ability or competence, whether in terms of staffing, experience or resources

By the same token, clients also have responsibilities. A consultancy should reasonably expect:

The understanding and acceptance that a consultancy’s ability to deliver a pre-determined outcome can depend on the acceptance, willingness, engagement and co-operation of others - third-parties who are wholly independent, unaligned and free of any obligation to the consultancy, and over whom it [the consultancy] has no control 

An informed understanding by client of what public relations is, what a public relations consultancy does, what it can do, and what it cannot do

Realism when assessing the return a consultancy might be expected to deliver

An understanding and acceptance of the fact that a consultancy will have other clients whose interests it must also serve

A mindfulness and acceptance of the fact that the unexpected can happen, sometimes leading to a crisis that calls for a consultancy’s total and immediate attention, thereby requiring the temporary setting-aside of other client matters that, while perhaps equally important, may be less pressing

Willingness by client not to take extended credit but to make reimbursements in full and within reasonable time, mindful that a consultancy too will have salary and other costs, including some incurred on a client’s behalf, that must be met

A consciousness by client never to place a request or lay responsibility upon a consultancy that would endanger the good relationships it enjoys amongst its professional contacts, service providers and/or those intermediaries upon which it relies for the successful discharge of its responsibilities on behalf of clients

An awareness never to require the consultancy to engage in practices that may be illegal, distasteful, offensive, in breach of convention, contrary to societal norms, or damaging to its good name and reputation in any way 

A realisation and acceptance of the fact, whether it be expressed or not, that a consultancy, conscious of its own good name and professional standing, should be prepared to resign its commission if - through failings on any side or through changes in legislative or other regulatory requirements – such a step becomes the only proper and correct course

Mindful that a formal contract can be no more valuable than the paper it is written on, client and consultancy should nonetheless be willing to bind themselves to each other through a formal contract or through the exchange of a simple, mutually acceptable and comprehensive letter of appointment

Accepting that a relationship, even one of long-standing, can break down, or that a client may, through a change of circumstance or through force majeure, wish to terminate a relationship, the very least a consultancy might expect is that it would be effected with all of the courtesy, consideration and respect that a reasonably person might think would be due, one to another and vice versa