Gini Dietrich

The Importance of Tracking Time and Other PR Firm Essentials

By: Gini Dietrich | June 20, 2013 | 

The Importance of Tracking Time and Other PR Firm EssentialsIn the for-profit business world, it’s rare you get a look at what your competitors are doing, particularly if most of them are private companies.

But at Counselors Academy, an organization for PR firm leaders, best practices, strategic investments, and even financials are shared among peers with the goal of making everyone better business owners.

Such was the case when Ken Jacobs and George Rosenberg presented a workshop on profitability for PR firms.

There are a few things worth highlighting.

According to the 2012 Agency Billing and Utilization Report from StevensGouldPincus:

  • The average profit per agency is 18.7 percent
  • The average salaries and benefits per agency is approximately 55 percent
  • The average annual billable rate per employee is $199,000
  • The average billable time for the PR firm leader is 40 percent

Projected Billing

The study also shows, to figure an employee’s projected billing, you should take the number of working hours per year (1,800 at an eight hour day with paid time off and holidays removed) and multiply that by their target billable percentage. Then multiply that by their billable rate and you have a dollar amount.

So for an account executive, you’d use the following:

1,800 (workable hours in a year)


94% (time that should be spent on billable work)


1,692 (billable hours in a year)



= $253,800 (projected billing)

Of course, the percentage of time that should be spent on billable work decreases the further up the ladder you go (which is why the leader is at 40 percent) because the idea is, with more experience, your team is bringing in new business or growing clients organically, which makes up for their lost billable time.

The Importance of Tracking Time

I am not a believer in billable hours, as they pertain to invoicing clients that way. That said, it is extremely important you track your time and assign a rate to it. Without it, you have no idea how much things cost or how long it takes someone to do something.

That’s why, even when you’re overservicing a client, tracking time – every minute of it that is spent – allows you to be strategic and smart about the budgets you’re creating.

When you go to budget new business, you can go into your financial history, take the last three similar clients or projects, add up the costs, divide by three, add 10-15 percent for unforeseen issues, and voila! You have a realistic budget.

Can you imagine if you’re just guessing how much things will cost and then you go over by 50 percent? You’re unhappy, you can’t go back to the client and ask for more money, and the relationship ends badly.

Track your time…and do it honestly. I know my team sometimes wants to give clients some of their time for free. That’s fine. But tracking time means you know how much things realistically cost in the future.

Not Good at Math

I know most of you went into PR because you’re not good at math.

I know this because every time I speak, I ask, “How many of you went into PR because you hate math?” And typically more than 90 percent of the room raises their hands.

So I get it. I do.

But if you’re going to lead an organization that sells people’s brains for a profit, you have to get good at the simple math.

Understand what your people are doing. Understand where they’re spending their time. Take the time to figure out which clients are making you money and which ones you’re losing money on.

Use the new business time to figure out realistic budgets instead of telling new clients you can do everything they want inside their tiny budget.

Set expectations. Track your time. Be realistic. Work in buffers for the unexpected overages. Stay on strategy.

And, for heaven’s sakes, learn the math.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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