One of the most rewarding parts of public relations is seeing a client grow and receive the exposure that helps take their business to the next level. Often, non-profits and small businesses are unable to afford the type of PR that could help them succeed and bring exposure to their cause or product and it is not uncommon for these organizations to reach out to PR agencies for free or discounted services. Adding anyone to your client roster comes with responsibilities and a time commitment, and taking on a client pro bono require serious consideration in order to ensure benefit all parties involved. Here are three things to consider when deciding whether or not to accept a pro-bono client:
Can you financially afford the non-billable time?
The first and most important question to ask yourself when considering a pro-bono client is, do we have the financial ability to provide PR services without compensation? Great intentions (and even great media hits) alone won’t cover the costs of running the business and the energy spent could take away from time spent acquiring new, paying clients. If you are already straining to keep up with your current client workload and account that doesn’t come with a financial boost to the agency bottom line will likely result in extra stress for your team and lackluster results, which isn’t fair to anyone. Similarly, if you’re operating a newer agency or your biggest client is going through some major restructuring, the timing might not be right. Speak to your accountant for any pro-bono work done for a non-profit as consulting might allow for a tax deduction.
How much time can you dedicate you the pro bono account?
Once you’ve determined the financial and resource viability, the next step is to determine the exact nature of the relationship; how much time and resources you can devote to the client and what specific services will be provided. Perhaps a full-scale PR program isn’t feasible, but a social media roadmap that can be implemented by the client would be possible. Talk to your team and find out what makes sense. Be sure to clarify the specifics with your client as well, so that everyone is aware of the situation and expectations. After accepting a pro bono client the lack of money changing hands should become a non-issue; they still require your best effort and should receive the same strategic thinking, creative ideation, communication and consistent focus as any other client.
How does the pro bono client support agency goals?
For a pro bono account to make sense, both the client and the agency need to benefit. Examine exactly how this relationship supports agency goals. Perhaps you can use the work you complete as a case study in order to expand into a new vertical, or you believe strongly that the brand has huge potential and you want to be there when the budgets get big. Choosing to bring on a pro bono client means devoting your team’s time and efforts, so it’s important that at a minimum, the brand is something your team is passionate about supporting and excited to work on.
Taking on a client, pro bono or not, is a serious responsibility and hopefully the start of a long-term relationship. Before you accept a pro bono client it’s important that you sit down with your team to discuss if you can afford to, how exactly you want to help and the benefit of adding them to your client roster. Helping an organization that can’t afford your services, whether it’s a non-profit organization that raises awareness for a cause you believe in, or an emerging designer with an incredible line, can be extremely rewarding and lead to great things. First, get clear on how the endeavor will help your business benefit beyond the bottom line.