Tough economic times call for increased strategic planning at all levels of business. For independent PR firms, strategic planning is often conducted at the end of a long day or sandwiched between client meetings. Many of us don't have adequate time to plan, nor do we have the resources our larger brethren often do. We compensate by being quick thinkers, tapping our personal networks, and using moxie to push forward.
Here are suggestions on how small agencies can use their size to best advantage.
- Tap your network. Seek advice from others in similar situations. If you're not comfortable discussing such issues with local rivals, there are professional networks available to find other principals willing to exchange ideas. The assistance I've gotten through PRSA's Counselors Academy has been extremely helpful when making tough decisions.
- Pursue efficiencies. We invested in technology that ultimately lowered our overhead. Upgrading everyone to laptops and a virtual network was money well spent. Meanwhile, we apply specific criteria for any new purchase as to how it will improve productivity and/or streamline activities.
- Change traditional office setting/hours. We need to think beyond the eight-hour workday. With high gas prices and new technologies, we've found many ways to adjust schedules and place staffers where and when they can be most effective. Trust employees to manage client responsibilities and billable hours – and witness the results.
- Brainstorm beyond reduction in force (RIF). We love being independent because we don't have to answer to headquarters calling for a layoff at the slightest profit dip. These firms are more nimble and should use that to their advantage. If you need to reduce costs, consider options such as furloughs, job-sharing, and reassignment of resources. We're even entertaining the idea of sharing an executive with another agency. These options are often better than a RIF.
- Simplify the billing process. If a client struggles to pay a monthly retainer, discuss hourly billing. This makes it easier for your client and allows you to keep preaching the “work an hour, bill the hour, and collect for the hour” mantra. The bottom line likely won't change much, but you'll certainly build goodwill.
- Be creative with administrative costs. For us, the many ways we do this run the gamut from using a free conference-calling service, to me, as president, taking on administrative tasks. Get in the habit of running monthly overhead reports. You'll be amazed at your own creativity.
- Refine your structure and bill accordingly. Your clients don't want to pay professional rates for clerical, administrative, and “order-taking” tasks. As such, use lower-priced folks – interns and freelancers – for non-skilled labor while saving your account team for strategic work. Pass along the savings to your clients and show them that you care about maximizing their budgets.
These are a few of the many steps we've taken to raise our value proposition and reduce overhead.
Scott Smith is the president of Westbound Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.