Software allows for greater view of agency profitability

Usually, what clients want most from PR agencies is to know that their efforts and campaigns are generating some sort of a return on investment.

Usually, what clients want most from PR agencies is to know that their efforts and campaigns are generating some sort of a return on investment. While that's well within their right as an employer of the agency, there's a flip side to that coin - agencies need to know clearly which clients are profitable and which ones are not.

For PR agencies, monitoring the cost of servicing clients has evolved quite a bit. Old-school tactics (which are still utilized by some) like meticulous bookkeeping and timekeeping have given way to the modern age, with software that can monitor everything.

Curt Finch, CEO of Journyx, a provider of timesheet software, believes PR firms don't keep very careful track of their costs.

"Most PR firms and consultancies have no idea which customers are profitable and which one are not," explains Finch, whose company's newest product, Customer Cost Tracker, allows agencies to determine the costs involved in servicing their clients. "They all are kind of casual about that."

Sally Cohen, GM, SVP at WunderMarx PR, says the tracking of client costs is one of the hardest things for an agency to do, because of the high number of intangibles.

Cohen's agency tracks employee time and travel very closely using two pieces of software called QuickBooks and TimeFox.

"Tracking it is a challenge, because most of what you do for your clients is human cost," she explains. "We try to keep it simple because there are so many other things that you have to manage on a cost basis. So we try to keep it simple [both] for them and for us."

Carri Clemens, CFO at Linhart PR, says that for at least the past six years, the agency has managed its client costs with software called BigTime. That software not only allows the agency to keep from exceeding its clients' budgets, but it also assists in hiring and client-staffing decisions.

"As an agency," Clemens says, "it allows us to streamline and better manage the process."

Key points:

The right software allows you to stay within a client's budget and properly staff an assignment

Knowing which clients are profitable and which ones are not allows you to operate effectively as an agency

Test drive several cost-tracking products to find the right one for your firm

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