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When short-term contracts make sense for PR Agencies

October 22, 2019

Earlier this month, we talked about the advantages of a long-term client contracts. Among them were the benefits of getting to know who our client is and what works with their audiences; the reality that lots of pitching can’t be pitched in just 2 months; and fact that, without ample time, short campaigns don’t always produce as good a set of results as longer ones. For us at Sprocket, PR, Social Media, and Influencer campaigns tend to work best when we have at least 6 months to execute them. 

But there is a place for short-term contracts, and shorter contracts are becoming more and more the norm in the industry. These days, fewer brands have Agencies of Record; instead, they engage with PR agencies on a project-by-project basis. While that’s not always ideal for agencies, we must get comfortable with that reality and find ways to make it worth our clients’ time. 

Luckily, there are some major upsides to engaging on short-term contracts. 

  • Short-term contracts can help agencies handle client skepticism. Our agency has encountered potential clients whose stories make great fodder for PR and Social Media, and who we know we could knock it out of the park for. But the client is skeptical that our offerings will move the needle. And agencies know that not having a client fully on-board can mean the difference between a successful partnership and a short-lived one. Agreeing to engage on a short-term contract can—operative word here—help an agency get a foot in the door to prove to the client that PR/Social Media/Influencer work is worth their time and can get them on board for longer projects. However, it is really important that as the agency, you give yourself the contract parameters you need to succeed. If you sell the client the world but only have 3 months to pull it off, that skeptical client pull the plug when you aren’t able to meet the unrealistic expectations you set.
  • If you’ve worked with the brand before, you can mostly skip the onboarding phase. So much of starting out with a new client is learning their brand—their backstory, what they’re comfortable with, what they’ve tried before that has worked, and what hasn’t. So if you’re engaging with a brand you’ve already worked with, you can mostly skip that phase, diving into the meat of what they need for their project. That allows you to get started right away, building on media or influencer relationships you started when you worked with the brand before.
  • It allows you to gain experience in a given industry, even if they don’t have the budget to engage a long-term partner. For example, let’s say your industry is interested in working more in the cannabis space. Cannabis brands often don’t devote as much budget to PR or Marketing as other industries do because they can’t write those expenses off on their federal taxes (since cannabis is, you know, illegal at a federal level). But you see that the cannabis industry is moving toward broader legalization, and you need an ‘in’ to the industry. It might make sense to engage on a short-term project with a cannabis brand that would bolster your cannabis experience, help you better understand the industry, and give you a cannabis campaign to point to down the road when a canna brand with a big budget comes to you looking for PR, Social Media, or Influencer campaign help. 
  • It provides a way out. Hopefully this isn’t the case, but if said client is not a great partner—if they don’t trust their agency as the expert in matters of PR, Social Media, or Influencer work, or are constantly trying to change strategies or meddle with the agreed-upon strategy—having a short-term contract can be a godsend for an agency. It’s a way out of a less-than-ideal partnership, without too many hurt feelings or any legal confrontations. 

Does your agency engage for short-term contracts? What are the advantages and disadvantages?