I don’t get it. Why do prospective clients go to great lengths not to offer up their potential PR agencies any indication of their PR budget?
You all know the drill. You meet the prospect, do your creds, give them insight into your company and how you can turn them into a household name. They love what they hear and say, "Sure, sounds great. Go off and prepare a presentation for the rest of our executives." "Oh, and make sure you tell us how much this is all going to cost." So off you go, spending hours drumming up a fabulous strategic plan against some hypothetical business case they will likely never execute anyway. You love it and, thankfully, they love it too – except for your pricetag.
Ah, but there’s the catch. At that very first meeting, the prospect didn’t give you any indication of budget. Why? Well, I think that for some crazy reason clients want to see if you will give them the sun, moon and stars for half the price they had in mind.
Okay, here’s the real truth: most prospects do have a budget in mind. They all do. But some prospects like the sport of "You go high and I’ll go low." We PR agency types, though, get really frustrated by this game of Deal or No Deal. C’,mon, we’re professionals. We pitch new business regularly. So if we come in too high on a budget or it’s totally off the Richter scale, it’s probably cuz we weren’t briefed properly. Period. The last thing an agency wants to do is price themselves out of the running (unless they really don’t want the business in the first place). Agencies want to work within client budgets and give the best strategic counsel and execution ideas based on a realistic budget framework.
The best client assignments are the ones that fully disclose budget parameters, and so I applaud those prospects who are honest and upfront from the get-go. As agencies, we should demand budget boundaries at that very first meeting so we can avoid Houdini-like budget exercises that keep us up all night. The prospect should disclose fully the amount of PR dollars they want to spend. No one should be wasting any time on a fact-finding mission dubbed “How Much is This Client Willing to Spend?” Even a budget range would give us some wiggle room in preparing our submissions and creative presentations.
If budgets are disclosed to all agencies, the prospect can really compare their potential agencies’ value, ideas and execution costs. While cost is certainly not the deciding factor in any agency decision, upfront disclosure evens out the playing field so potential agencies can be benchmarked against each other using the same yardstick.
So next time you’ve got a prospect sitting across the table from you, put it to them this way: You open up the kimono, and we promise not to laugh. With some creative tailoring, we’ll help you look your finest in no time and of course … on budget.