As a PR agency owner, you’re responsible not only for results and communications, but also boundaries and expectations. Whether it be office hours, term limits or billing specifics, it’s up to YOU to outline, in necessary detail, what your agency’s clients can expect and vice versa.
The best and most effective way of setting the tone and keeping things in line is with a contract/ letter of agreement. Whether you’re signing your first client, or updating after a few years, there are some essential items not to be missed when it comes to your contract.
PR powerhouse and former lawyer Jennifer Berson of gave us a few insights on how to create, update and enforce contracts. She is President & Founder of Jeneration PR, a firm specializing in promoting beauty, baby & lifestyle brands, and Jeneration Academy, an online educational platform for entrepreneurs. Prior to founding Jeneration PR in 2005, Jen was a civil litigation attorney in Los Angeles.
1. Get a legal template
Hiring a lawyer to write your contract is not only smart, but a worthwhile investment. Aside from outlining your scope of work, the contract allows you to protect your interests and cover all the bases. You can then use this contract as a template for future efforts.
A lawyer will know exactly how to lay out your contract, reference all parties, cover all the bases and keep your agency protected. It may seem like a steep investment to bring on professional help, but hiring a lawyer will save you countless hours of work and will save you from any missteps made if you were to form a contract yourself.
Now, you may find yourself taking on a client who prefers to draw up their own contract rather than moving forward with just yours. “If this happens, just review it carefully as theirs will be written to favor and benefit them, and you are entitled to provide notes and request edits to better protect your business,” Jen says. Another reason why getting a lawyer to review contracts is smart business and can protect you from loss and headache in the long run.
2. Address outcomes and expectations
Every contract for a PR agency needs, needs, NEEDS to state that results are not guaranteed and payment is not contingent on results.
“This is [an] industry standard–we get paid regardless of the outcome of our efforts,” Jen explains. It’s also an industry standard that PR agencies get paid in advance of their service.
Don’t forget to clearly spell out what your “late charge” policy is. Create a set interest fee, say 5-10% per month that the invoice is unpaid. This becomes leverage when you’re following up on unpaid invoices; you can remind clients that they will be charged interest. More on dealing with pesky clients and late payments here.
3. Put an annual legal review on your calendar
Once a year, take a look at the template agreement you’re using to ensure it’s still covering you in the way you originally intended, and that it is reflective of your current services and possible outcomes as a result of those services.
Also, review the agreement any time you’re about to sign a larger client. You want to ensure you look “buttoned-up” and professional when their legal department reviews your agreement.
Not surprisingly, there are countless templates, clauses and resources out there to get the ball rolling, but the best advice is always going to come from your lawyer.