Free can mean very pricey indeed – as a disguised expense, or a hidden cost somewhere. The subject of ‘something for nothing’ certainly hits a nerve. There are enough song lyrics about it to fill an album, with bands and artists like Dire Straits, U2, Lil’ Jon and DJ Khaled singing their views.

As humans, we are all genetically programmed to love securing a bargain. 1 in 4 of us is physiologically more prone to a splurge in sales.  And there’s even a very forgettable acrynoym TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) –  the essence of which we are very aware.

Picture credit - - hoteldelapaixgeneve/

In the public relations industry, clients pay good money for objectives to be achieved, and the PR agencies deliver a good service, purposefully designed to achieve these objectives. Every now and then, a PR campaign grows and expands beyond its originally planned size (and budget) and everything gets blown off course. It’s the agency’s responsibility to manage this issue, with the client’s support.

An agency should not take umbrage about scope creep but instead take it as a compliment that more support is required. It’s highly unlikely that ‘extra for nothing’ is an objective from a devious client. More likely, it’s a misunderstanding of a change of requirements, or perhaps an appetitie for greater impact as business pressure grows. I expect clients are personally feeling the pain and pressure too. No client wants surprise additional invoices in the mail.

At what point is this additional activity discussed as an extra cost, or whether or not it replaces previously planned activity (unlikely)? The truth is that someone will be paying as there is no source of effort or energy – or even lunch – that does not require resources from something else.

Here are some tips for making sure that any PR scope creep is seen as a positive development and that everyone is committed to delivering the results required, without anyone being taken advantage of:

1. Understand by starting with the end in mind

As a client, what do you want to see and need as evidence of success? What is the business goal you are aiming for? Will the PR results make the difference you need? Rebuild your PR plan with your agency to deliver the difference.

2. Collaborate and rebuild the plan together

At all stages of planning, a client should work alongside the agency, giving constructive feedback at every stage, and having the shared responsibility of achieving success together.

3. Define the plan in detail

An agency should be mindful that the PR campaigns, PR projects or PR programme will have an appropriate level of activity commensurate with the budget, and the impact of which will deliver the results required for the client. An agency must know what the business objectives are.

4. Set the budget

An agency should estimate the time taken to undertake the activities which will deliver the results – and it should all be costed out in detail to fall within the budget. The budget must be transparent, a client must be able to understand the cost of the activity and where each £ is going.

5. Pin it down, in writing, with signatures

Get your plan, the activity, the KPIs and the anticipated targets and budget signed off. Agree that any additional activity is extra to the plan, and set an agreed pricing level between client and agency for additional activity requested. This must be signed off as extra. A client needs to completely understand what they are paying for, and what is extra. Transparency is crucial – and nothing is really free unless it has £0 value against it.

I think you get my gist. The remedy is getting it right in the first place, planning everything with a high degree of detail to ensure success and constantly monitoring.

At Firefly we call this high definition planning.

Picture credit: 

Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

Get in touch

Sign up to Spark, our newsletter

Receive thought pieces from our leadership team, views on the news, tool of the month and light relief for comms folk

You can unsubscribe at any time, please read our privacy policy for more information