Tips for Working on Project-Based Public Relations Clients

In the public relations industry, the main objective for any agency pitching new business is to become the ‘Agency of Record.’ Commonly referred to as an AOR, agencies who win this title enter an exclusive relationship with their client – the agency agrees to refrain from doing business with any of the client’s competitors and in return the client entrusts the agency with the exclusive rights to managing their PR and communications efforts.

Often times, prospective clients will opt for a shorter-tem, project-based public relations campaign before they choose an agency to bring on as their AOR. This happens for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common is that project-based assignments allow both parties a “trial-run” of the partnership. The test period allows both the agency and the client to confirm the two teams are a good professional match before agreeing to a long-term (usually annual) commitment.

Since joining SHIFT in 2014, I’ve personally worked on more than a handful of clients who initially opted for short-term, project-based partnerships. Many of these clients chose SHIFT as their AOR when the project wrapped, and those who were unable to make the longer-term commitment have since come back to our team for support on additional one-off project campaigns.

If you find your team pitching and/or working on a project-based client, there are a few “Dos and Don’ts” you should keep in mind:

DON’T: Deprioritize project clients. It can be easy to push project-based tasks to the bottom of your to-do list, but it’s hugely important for teams to keep the end goal top of mind when working through a temporary contract. While the client may be project-based now, the quality of your work and how good of a partner you are directly effects whether they choose you as their AOR or go their separate way when the project ends.

DO: Go above and beyond. Because project-based campaigns often have lower retainers, and therefore more limited scopes, it can be easy for teams to focus on checking boxes instead of providing strategic council and guidance. Be sure to set up alerts, do industry news scans and keep an eye out for exciting opportunities, events, articles, campaigns and awards your client should pursue – even if the deadline falls outside of the timeframe in which you will be working together.

DON’T: Be afraid to try something new. PR professionals are sometimes hesitant to test an innovative campaign or pursue an out-of-the-box pitch angle on behalf of a project-based client. We tend to air on the side of caution when we’re unsure of the future of the partnership, but big risk can mean big reward when it comes to converting these clients. Share all of the crazy ideas your team dreams up, but be sure to set clear expectations of what the goals or results of each initiative will be.

Moral of the story? Approach project-based clients the same way you approach your other clients. First impressions go a long way with companies looking to hire an AOR, so make sure yours accurately reflects your team and individual work ethic, drive and expertise.

Casey Egan
Senior Account Executive


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