How PR pros can defend against scope creep

Saying “no” to a lucrative client is an uncomfortable but often critical part of working in PR. Here’s how to keep your deliverables manageable—and profitable.

Sometimes the hardest part of PR is saying “no.”

Despite a PR pro’s best effort to define the scope of a project, getting a client to color within the lines is often a difficult but crucial—especially for solo PR entrepreneurs.

“It can be a grey area when it comes to providing above and beyond services that thrill clients and giving away time and effort that will hurt your bottom line” says Laurie Archbold, founder of Encore Public Relations/Red Couch Stories.

When it feels like saying “no” is harder than just doing the extra work, PR pros should remind themselves of these sage tips for reining in sprawling projects:

  • Focus on the most important elements of a project.
  • Be clear about expectations.
  • Don’t wait to address ballooning expectations until it gets out of hand.
  • Maintain a relationship of openness.

Kent Hollenbeck, deputy general manager and executive VP of corporate & public affairs for Edelman, recommends focusing the client on the key elements of the project:

Of course in any client/agency dynamic there will be periods when we may be asked to “do more” in the moment. This can be due to staffing shortages on the client side, new (or changing) priorities or a host of other reasons. While we always do our best to be a partner in those cases, we also set regular check-ins (quarterly business reviews for example) to confirm priorities, discuss the effectiveness of our collective efforts, and have an open conversation about things that may be negatively impacting our efforts, including out-of-scope activities.

Jarvis Stewart, a managing partner with IR+Media, emphasizes the importance of managing expectations and setting limits:

The key is having open, honest and frequent conversations with the client and carefully create boundaries. As PR and marketing communications become more and more integrated, clients are always looking for a fresh approach to elevating their brand—which is great. In these instances, balancing the client’s expectations and your agency’s revenue growth becomes increasingly more important.

Lynn McMahon, principal at PUSH 7, stresses immediacy when the scope of the project takes on greater dimensions:

When the project begins to expand or change direction, it’s best to address it immediately. Usually, there’s an easy and quick resolution: either the client pulls back to the original scope or the client agrees to an additional investment. When that’s the case, putting the details in a change order for the client helps to ensure everyone has the same understanding. No one likes an unpleasant surprise when opening an invoice.

Laura Archbold also stresses the importance of building and maintaining trust:

The best client work is based upon a strong relationship that has been built on trust and mutual respect. When that has been established a true partnership for services is possible.

What would you add to this list, PR Daily readers?

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