Help! My Client is Questioning PR Value! What Should I Do?Several years ago, our team was working furiously on a PR strategy.

The goals were a bit different than the norm, and so we flexed our strategic skills to create a plan we knew would be successful and show real PR value.

We had been working tirelessly for about two weeks.

(We had already gone over the projected budget for the strategy portion of the project.)

I sat down for my weekly meeting with the client, and she was furious.

No, actually livid.

She wanted to know where her money was going?

What was the PR value of what we were doing?

It had been two weeks, and she’d seen nothing.

I was taken completely off-guard.

We explained to her at the beginning we’d create the strategy prior to the start of doing any actual work.

I emailed or talked to her on a daily basis, collecting info and asking questions, so it wasn’t like she hadn’t heard from us in two weeks.

What had happened?

What had gone wrong?

Where did we fail to show the value of what we were doing (even when there weren’t active deliverables or placements at that stage)?

The Value of PR vs. the Perception of PR

We’ve all been in similar situations with clients.

We feel like we are doing everything right.

We work hard and are excited about the progress we’re making for the client.

And then BOOM!

They question what we are doing with our time and their money.

Not only is it bad for our business, but it’s also bad for our psyche.

This can even happen when we are diligently following a PESO-model communications plan and use PR metrics to show real business results.

Simply because the perception of what PR should be doing, doesn’t align with what PR actually is doing (even if it’s much more valuable).

So how do we avoid this common, but brutal discussion?

Seven Steps to Show PR Value

Follow these seven steps to make sure every client understands the value of your work:

  1. Set expectations
  2. Provide a timeline
  3. Look for low-hanging fruit
  4. Explain your process
  5. Use PR metrics
  6. Send weekly reports
  7. Include an invoice reminder

We will discuss each of these individually, but one strong thread that runs through all of them is avoiding the curse of knowledge at every turn.

You will feel like you are over-explaining.

And think “this is common sense”.

It will seem like you are repeating yourself constantly.

You are not.

Avoid the curse of knowledge at all costs.

Clients don’t understand what PR is in the same way you do.

They don’t live and breathe communications.

Nor do they understand the details of our process or strategy development.

They don’t get timelines or why it can’t all happen quicker.

It’s your job to educate your clients and help them understand why you do what you do.

That’s a crucial part of all of these seven steps.

Set Expectations

Set expectations for your work at the very beginning and continue to reinforce them over and over and over again.

You might have things written out in your contract, but that doesn’t mean your client actually understands the process.

Have a client onboarding launch call where you review your statement of work and translate it into the real world and your work together.

“This is what this looks like day-to-day and week-to-week.”

Go through each part of what you’ll be doing and what they can expect along the way.

This is also when you’ll develop PR metrics to track in each stage.

These will be the agreed-upon data points to base progress.

Follow this discussion up with an email to the client.

That way, when your client comes to you a month down the road panicked because nothing is happening, you can point back to the discussion you had in the beginning, what stage you are currently in, what the agreed-upon metrics are for that stage, and what THEY say about success so far.

Let data speak to progress, not emotion.

You’ve now created a common understanding and foundation to base progress and success vs. each person’s perception of what progress and success look like.

Provide a Timeline

In this same discussion, you need to provide a clear timeline of how long it will take to do what.

This timeline will align with your PR metrics and project goals.

One common, common, common trap we see PR pros fall into is the following scenario:

  • PR pro: It will be around three to six months before we should expect to consistently meet our goal for this PR metric.
  • Client: Whoa, that long? I’d like to see some results by the end of the month.
  • PR pro: (panicked and uncomfortable) Wellllll, maybe we can try to get some things in motion by the end of the month, it just depends on X, X, X (insert a bunch of ambiguous factors you have zero control over).
  • Client: Great! That’s great (what the client hears: Yes, we will see major results by the end of the month. You’ll probably even get a call from Oprah).

Then the end of the month rolls around, and your client is furious there are no results.

That’s your fault.

You knew there wouldn’t be, but were too chicken to educate the client about why results by the end of the month were not possible.

Stop clucking around and provide a realistic timeline.

Find Low-Hanging Fruit

So what CAN you do when a client is antsy about a slower timeline than they’d like?

Find low-hanging fruit to show quicker PR value.

You should do this even if a client isn’t stressed about the timeframe (but really, all clients are stressed about the timeframe, even if they don’t actively say it).

These are the valuable opportunities out there which can be turned into results sooner rather than later.

(Please note the word valuable.)

Do not let the quest for low-hanging fruit distract or delay the execution of a long-range plan.

It is something to pursue simultaneously.

Make it extremely clear to the client that you will purse low-hanging fruit opportunities as part of your plan, but they are NOT the plan.

Explain Your Process (and Have One)

One of the first things we work on with our Agency Owner clients is developing a signature process.

This is key for both business development and client service.

Explain your process to the client in detail and show them documentation, something they can look at and understand each step of the way.

You might need to do this on both a macro (big picture) and micro (pieces of the big picture) level.

For example, say you are doing a strategy for a client.

There are many different things you research and document to get the intel you need for the strategy.

Take a few extra minutes to formalize these and give them to the client along the way.

These might include:

When you send, explain the value, what the report shows, and what it means for the bigger picture.

Help them understand how each step brings them closer to the determined goal.

Include when you’ll provide these things on your timeline.

Aim to provide something tangible each week.

Use PR Metrics

The best way to show PR value is to use PR metrics.

PR metrics must be part of all these other stops.

Not sure where to start with PR metrics?

Read this article. —> PR Metrics

Watch this video. —> PESO Model 2.0 Masterclass

And then use them. Love them.

Send Weekly Reports

Send consistent weekly documentation to your client about progress and PR value.

This is important even if you talk to them each week and should be seen as an indispensable part of your client service process.

Hearing something is very different than seeing it.

Plus you have an update to refer back to when needed.

Weekly reports should include:

  • What you accomplished last week
  • What you will accomplish next week
  • Important updates
  • Progress on PR metrics for that phase
  • Anything you need from the client
  • Anything else important to mention

Send them on the same day and in a consistent format each week.

Invoice Reminder

When do clients most frequently freak-out?

When they get their invoice, of course.

When you send your invoice, include all the things you’ve accomplished that month, your successes, and even a “look ahead” at next month.

Remind them what they pay you for when they pay you.

Show PR Value Every Day

These seven steps will help your client understand the PR value you provide, but you still need to provide the value.

You can put lipstick on a pig….and it will be freaking adorable.

Look at these baby pigs, ack! So cute.

Help! My Client is Questioning PR Value! What Should I Do?

But you can’t make bad PR metrics or lack of progress toward a client’s goals look good (or anywhere near as cute as this pig).

These seven steps not only help your client understand the PR value you provide they also help you see what works and what doesn’t.

That way, you can keep focused on the success metrics that matter and make smart decisions to optimize them.

How do you measure the PR value you provide to your clients?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Do you want to learn how to build and scale an integrated communications program? One which drives real business results and shows the PR value clients care about?  Become PESO Model Certified today.


Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

View all posts by Laura Petrolino