Finding the sweet spot between profitability and pro bono clients

The thought of pro bono clients may seem daunting for a small PR agency. How will you find time in between paid clients? Will this add value to the business?

The majority of non-profit organisations are eager for exposure but they have limited resources and funds. Although it will be incredibly rewarding to help facilitate an organisation’s growth, there are number of questions you need to consider when taking on pro bono clients, and be fully prepared for once you have made the commitment.  Here is how Agent99 has gone about it and what we have learned.

1.    Can you afford the unbillable hours

If you are toying with the idea of a pro bono client, you need to consider whether it is financially viable. Like all clients they will require your time and energy and therefore the engagement has the ability to take time away from new business or current clients which are paramount to your success. If you are already overwhelmed with your current workload, a pro-bono client will likely result in added stress for your team and average results. If you do not have the capacity for another client, then you might want to reconsider your pro bono strategy and plan to revisit the idea in the near future.  Perhaps look at quieter times of the year and make short term commitments to ensure that you can roll the program effectively without it impacting any other paid work.

2.    How many hours can you commit to

Once you have signed with a pro bono client, they may have plans and a vision of how you will transform their brand. Although their intentions are good, you may not have the capacity or time for a full-scale PR program for them. It is important to determine the specifics of the agreement with the client and your team prior to commencing the campaign, to ensure you are not creating false promises. For example, your team may only have the capacity to manage their social media pages or create a press release and pitch every 3 months. Only commit to what you know you can realistically achieve, and make the client aware of the remit so that it can be managed effectively.  If you find that the hours go beyond what’s achievable, revisit this with the client and manage their expectations.  This should be an easy conversation if you made it clear from the beginning.

3.     Does it add value to your agency

For both parties to benefit, an agency should take on clients that the team are passionate about or hold similar values to. There are a number of ways that a pro bono client will benefit your agency. It has the ability to grow your team closer, it is a way for you to be involved in your community and give back using your valuable skills and it can build relationships with multiple contacts that might benefit you in the future. It is also important to remember that the pro bono client needs to benefit from this partnership as like you, their time and energy will be used in maintaining a relationship with your team.

Even though we are a small boutique agency, Agent99 has, since day one of its inception, believed that having pro-bono clients is vital to our success. Our first client was a pro bono client, Life Changing Experiences Foundation, a mentoring program for at risk teenage girls.  It has been so rewarding seeing their organisation grow and expand due to some of our efforts. In the time we have worked with them, our PR results have contributed to over $700K of donations and grants won for the organisation – no small feat.

So, don’t let the size of your agency be an excuse for not taking on pro bono clients. However, always ensure you are strategic and thoughtful when considering the options to ensure its success for everyone involved.

Agent Amelia