You Pay Your Doctor, Your Lawyer and Your CPA. But PR Should Be Free?

At tax time, would you ever insist that three CPAs prepare your returns but you would only pay for the one that results in the lowest tax payment?

If you needed a lawyer, would you ever insist that three attorneys prepare your case, but you would only pay the one that gives you the complaint language you like best?

If you wanted a retirement plan, would you insist that three financial planners each prepare a strategy, but only pay the one that results in you saving the most?

And what about this – when it’s time for an annual physical – would you go to three doctors and only pay the one that gives you the health advice you like best, even though you won’t let any of them take any bloodwork or give you scans?

Of course, most would answer “no” to all of the above. So, why do so many think PR strategies, of all professional services, should be given away for free? Why do so many think asking multiple firms for uncompensated plans is a good business practice and an effective way to build a relationship? It boggles the mind.

In recent months, we have been asked to provide a plan for free, based on a one-page description of needs and a one-hour meeting “along with 6 or so other firms” and the one a committee likes the best gets hired. We have been asked, for sophisticated plaintiff’s side litigation, to put together an entire communications strategy, for free, before a company would make a decision to hire a firm. We have also been asked to “brainstorm some creative ideas” with a prospective client, without being compensated for the time, before a contract would be awarded to one of three competing firms.

The answer to all of those asks, among others along the same lines, has been “no thank you.”

Strategies, plans and new ideas are some of the most important things we develop for clients. We earn our livings by selling our time to design and execute those plans using our collective skill and experience. We believe there is value in that worth paying for, as do our longtime clients.

So why do organizations think they can get valuable work for free as part of a firm selection process (albeit flawed)? Because firms desperate for work devalue their own services and stoop to the lowest possible levels in an effort to grab any business they can. Until some firms stop giving away work for free, on spec, we’ll continue to be asked. And we’ll continue to decline.