4 Reasons to Implement a Pro-Bono Program at Your PR Agency

Ask any agency leader for the most exhilarating part of their job, and they’ll undoubtedly say new business. The excitement of finding a qualified lead, discovering a mutually beneficial fit, then (hopefully) adding that lead to the client roster (or as we call it, the “LPR family”) just never gets old.

Over the past year, we’ve reimagined our new business strategy at LPR. We put a dedicated team in place to vet opportunities and ensure we’re connecting with the right people who fit within our kids and parent lifestyle niche instead of mass answering RFPs. The team is not only seeing continued success with new client wins – they’ve fine-tuned our pro-bono program to ensure we’re giving back to the community through a strategic overarching new business lens.

At its core, pro bono (defined as volunteer work) seems counter intuitive for agencies seeking new paying clients. PR agency leaders have limited hours in the day – why spend them chasing unpaid work? I get that. But, after rethinking our new business strategy and analyzing the potential long-term outcomes, we’re giving pro-bono work higher priority – and here are four reasons pro-bono clients could benefit your agency, too.

The team is not only seeing continued success with new client wins – they’ve fine-tuned our pro-bono program to ensure we’re giving back to the community through a strategic overarching new business lens.

1. Pro Bono Work Expands the Agency’s Network

Agencies are known by the company they keep; as we’ve found over the past 29 years, it’s our company – AKA our network – where most new business leads come from. While they may not pay, pro-bono work puts us in front of a board of directors (which typically consists of decision makers and professionals from non-competing industries) that further grow our network. Additionally, through this pro-bono PR work, we’re not only networking with decision makers – we’re showing them the agency’s strengths and capabilities.

To find the “right” decision makers for your agency, target nonprofits or causes that fit within your new client “sweet spot,” (e.g., for us, it’s brands that speak to parents and children). That way, if they ever need to hire or recommend an agency, yours will be top of mind.

2. Working with Pro-bono clients allows Agencies to enter new markets

Want to grow your agency’s experience outside your typical client categories? Working with the right pro-bono client just a step outside your go-to niche is a simple (yet efficient) way to get there. If you’re already well-known in an industry that caters to a specific demographic – let’s say sports equipment for amateur athletes – look for a pro-bono client to expand that niche (perhaps, in this example, a little league sports organization in your local community).

You can then leverage your relationships with these category-specific press and influencers to satisfy your new client’s needs while simultaneously growing your own expertise areas – without starting from scratch.

3. Give Junior-Level Employees More Leadership with pro bono accounts

Pro-bono work is a great, safe way to let junior-level employees give account leadership a try. While they may not be ready to fly solo with a paying client, there is no better way to learn client service 101 than through the safety net of a pro-bono account. From the get-go, the scope of pro-bono work should be clearly defined, making it a lower-stress leadership situation that can instill confidence and help your teammates grow.

4. Rally Employees Around a Common Cause

At the end of the day, we love pro-bono work because it makes all of us feel good – and if you’ve read this far, you’re probably the same. In addition to new business and team growth, pro-bono work gives you the chance to give back to a cause you and your agency loves. What’s better than that?

Our first pro-bono client, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), was chosen after my niece was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. It was a very personal decision and I was genuinely touched when our account teams went above and beyond on the account – treating it less as a “to-do” list item and more like a passion project.  We had a lot of fun running their Gala and publicizing their annual walk, and along the way we met some incredible people who rallied with us for the same important cause.

While pro-bono work is strategic for numerous reasons, and may have less stress than a paying client, you have to take the work seriously. You’re being asked to help an organization reach its key goals, so it’s crucial you put in the time and effort to succeed. While pro-bono work may look good on the client roster, it’ll have the reverse effect (think negative client feedback, poor word-of-mouth reviews, etc.) if you give it anything but your best.

About This Author

Michele Litzky is a seasoned generalist and strategist who has driven top-notch PR results for a wide array of clients – from small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. She founded award-winning boutique lifestyle and family entertainment PR firm Litzky Public Relations in 1988 with just one client, Matchbox Toys. Today, she’s grown the Hoboken-based agency to nearly 25 employees with a full client roster, ranging in categories from toys and baby gear to lifestyle brands and social good campaigns. The agency’s primary objective -- bringing clients strategically into the spotlight – is accomplished through traditional and digital marketing and publicity initiatives that reach media, influencers and strategic partners. While her agency has experienced exciting growth, so has her family. Her three adult nieces, Rachel, Alison and Samantha, prepared her well for the newest jewels in her crown, her grandchildren, Emma, Jack and Henry. To connect with Michele, follow LPR on Instagram (@litzkypr) and Facebook, or visit www.litzkypr.com.