It Doesn't Have To Take 14 People, $782k For Crisis PR

imagesAnytime there’s a news story about PR agency fees, it can’t be good. And the latest story paints PR firms as greedy, overcharging, budget-sucking wastes of money.

Here’s the story from the Raleigh News and Observer about how much the University of North Carolina has spent on a global firm that threw a bunch of bodies on a crisis project, billing what would be the annual revenue of a robust small to medium firm in just a few months.

To be fair, that’s the size of a small national advertising campaign. Also, I’m reasonably certain the firm did deliver some results. I was able to see a communication sent from the UNC Athletic Department to alumni after the investigation findings were announced and it was an impressive piece of communication – candid, straightforward and comforting. But make no mistake, it does not take 14 people and $782,000 to manage a crisis.

In the late ’90s, I was part of a team that managed communications during a significant client crisis. Three of us worked on the business and in a full year, we billed probably around $200,000 (keep in mind, there has been some fee deflation since then). We achieved results and built long-term relationships on the client side. And that was, by any definition, a huge undertaking.

Today, we are frequently asked to work with clients of all sizes on crisis management and recovery projects. Don and/or I lead those projects frequently. We wouldn’t even know what to do with 14 people. Sometimes, we are able to help clients via short-term engagements that wouldn’t raise a single auditor’s eyebrow. Then again, we don’t have the overhead of the global firms, nor their billing mandates.

Please let me reassure you that this UNC work is on the high end, nationally, of cost and resources. There is absolutely no reason to think that that is what it necessarily takes, for an organization of any size, to communicate during or after an adverse situation. Hire a nimble, experienced, cost-consicous firm and you can get counsel, results and value at the same time.