Notes From True Confessions: The Questions You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask, But Need To Know About PR Management and/or Owning Your Own Agency

I have spent the last week attending back to back PRSA events, my first ever Counselors Academy in Key West and then the Health Academy in Washington, DC. Both meetings offered incredible content and I wanted to offer a summary of some of what I learned.

Debra Bethard-Caplick, MBA, APR, the Managing Partner of  Quicksilver Edge Communications lead an interesting roundtable called True Confessions: The Questions You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask, But Need To Know focusing on PR agency management and ownership.  While the Ben Garrett Group was established more than ten years ago, since BGG has become an LLC it has gone through a dramatic growth support and suddenly I’ve found myself managing a much larger company.

Here’s some of the things we all learned in bulletpoint format: 

Helpful Management sources:

            TimeFox (

RFPs and Proposals

Many times people skip RFP process, but it can be a point of contact.

Watch the fine print of RFPs – one for an outdoor event said that if the revenues were less than previous years, the agency wouldn’t get paid at all.

Put wording at the end protecting your proposal from unauthorized usage by prospects.

Use a building block proposal, where you have stock elements that you can pick and choose from different elements to customize your proposals.

Keep a bank of case studies and white papers that you can use to supplement your proposals.

Use RFPs to involve and train junior staff members. Determine which RFPs are worth pursuing, and put together a team of junior staff with one or two more senior staff members to guide them.

Prospecting for Clients

Offer free content. One attendee broadcast live streaming video for potential clients at a trade show and found clients through that activity.

Cold calling tends to only work once or twice out of 100 calls.

Ask clients to refer you to others as a matter of course, but especially if you are doing outstanding work for little-to-no profit.

One successful strategy is to build relationships with other firms that don’t have PR functions and build a relationship with them, so they can slot you into their projects as their PR department.

Billing and Expenses

Standard markup rate is 17.65%

Alternative is to build in administrative time to cover mark up.

This doesn’t work well when people are simply getting reprints of brochures or business cards – then you need to markup.

Losing money on a client you’ve outgrown means you either need to fire the client or upgrade the client: either increase their rate or increase the services you provide them.

You can walk away by referring them to someone else who is better suited to handle their level of business.

You should charge everyone the same, even if the different levels of staff work on the account.

It’s best to reevaluate your client contracts every six months for usage patterns.

You don’t want clients stockpiling huge amounts of unused retainer hours on purpose to hit you with a huge project in a single month.

Limit hours “rollover” to a maximum of six months – then if the client doesn’t use it, they lose it. Then you need to reevaluate the retainer agreement.

What if your contractual agreement says you give the client your best rate? That makes it tricky.

Good resource books on agency management:

Joan Gladstone’s Starting Your Own PR Firm:

            Tom Gable: Available for $20 for the Kindle at Amazon.

Projects don’t convert well into retainers, so target programs over projects.

            If you train your clients to do projects, why would they hire you to do programs?


Look at/track profitability by client.


Effective use of social media can make you look bigger and more influential than your size might indicate.

            Be a great curator and creator of content.

One agency hired a new business development person at a base plus commission to get new clients, and it works very well.

            He stays involved in the process till he isn’t needed anymore

Don’t call it “research and measurement” – clients hear that and think “expensive” and “esoteric academia.” Clients are much more interested if it’s called “competitive analysis.”

Debra’s contact information:  Twitter: @dcaplick @quicksilveredge