It has been interesting to see how the communications industry has reacted to reduced retainers and cancellations during lockdown. A particularly negative trend I have observed, especially across the smaller operators, is a tendency to offer services at vastly reduced prices or even for free.
I would strongly counsel against this for a wide range of reasons:
Offering a service for free instantly devalues it. PR suffers enough with regards to measurability, its one time ‘fluffy’ image and the periodic knocks it takes in the press (rightly) due to bad, negligent and sometimes downright dodgy practice. Strategic, measurable, accountable PR should be expensive. It is a professional service in the same vein as law or accountancy and deserves to be charged accordingly.
When you go low, it forces others to do the same. That’s a really bad move for the industry. See my point above on why PR should be expensive. Racing to the bottom makes everybody cheap, there can be no winner in this situation.
Also, when you offer your services for free, at what point can or do you start charging? And how on earth do you persuade a ‘client’ up from zero investment?
When Sky puts out its offers ‘for new customers only’ it makes me cross. As an existing, long-term customer, I feel that Sky should be giving me the best offers. When PR consultancies advertise services for free, or at a reduction – what are they saying to their existing clients (including those that have paused spend)?
Now I do recognise that some practitioners and agencies have literally lost every single client. And I understand the desire and need to do something and quickly.
However, racing to the bottom is rarely the answer in my experience.
At my specialist legal PR consultancy, LexRex Communications, we spent the first month of the crisis listening to our clients. As a result, we understand the challenges they are facing, and their immediate priorities. We continue to speak to them via our fortnightly (client only) Mastermind Zoom calls, which enable our entirely non-competing clients (who notwithstanding that are all lawyers) to get together and discuss their challenges and solutions.
Our sessions also help me to understand the issues keeping each attendee up at night.
I have been able to use the insights from these sessions and from my wider research across the legal sector to create LexRex: Trusted Partner. This is an initiative with its goal and strategy routed firmly in supporting our existing clients.
I recognise that, for the majority of our lawyers; PR, communications, marketing are way down the priority list. While we continue, of course, to provide a top quality service as per our retainer terms; it has felt important to me to continue to go above and beyond, despite the challenging times we are experiencing.
Our first LexRex: Trusted Partner webinar event provided detailed insight into how lawyers can successfully access the government-backed loan scheme (the catchily-named Coronavirus business interruption loan scheme). Partnering with an expert third (trusted) party enabled us to run this session, providing exceptional value for our clients.
We were going to charge non-clients to attend, but at the last moment decided to open it for free.
However, importantly we did this whilst also providing our clients with direct access to our expert. The aim was to give clients that special treatment and hopefully illustrate that we continue to value them.
Future content will depend on what is needed. And while we may again invite non-clients to the party; we will continue to ensure that our clients receive more. To me – that’s simply common sense and good manners.
While none of us can predict how the Coronavirus outbreak will pan out in the long-term, I believe that the consultancies that can demonstrate value and loyalty to existing clients and avoid the temptation to devalue themselves for short-term perceived gain, are the ones likely to emerge to fight another day.
Only time will tell.