What is the 'life value' of time? An open letter to clients and agencies

A few Sundays ago, I marked a birthday, my 58th to be exact. And, not so surprisingly, that same weekend, I helped say goodbye to a friend who slipped the surly bonds of earth. Such is the stage of life I'm in.

A few Sundays ago, I marked another birthday, my 58th to be exact. And, not so surprisingly, that same weekend, I helped say goodbye to a friend who slipped the surly bonds of earth. Such is the stage of life I'm in.

It made me think about the finite amount of time we have, and it brought new meaning to the term “spending time.” We actually do spend time from our life account, and eventually, the account runs dry. RIP. That, of course, doesn't occur to us in our teens and 20s and even our 30s. We act without the constraints of time, or the notion we won't always have the time we want. But as we age, the life value of time skyrockets.

In a way, that shouldn't be the case. An hour spent at age 20 is an hour you'll never retrieve. How did we spend it, and what was it worth to us personally?

Whether older or younger, people in our business should be hypersensitive to this notion. We sell our time. At least, that's the current regime in PR. Sit down with any procurement person and you'll be parsing the real cost of time faster than you can say “cost-plus.”

That makes discussions about procurement in our business all the more personal and poignant. It makes us ask “is this how I want to spend my time?” and “why am I doing what I am doing?” and “do I love what I am doing?” Plus a few other questions, no doubt.

Yet, our industry responds so feebly to the procurement onslaught, as if we don't want to defend the life value of our own time. For example, who hasn't taken an hourly rate and reduced it by 25%? And then who hasn't reduced it further when some consultant feeds the pretense that your firm is still too costly?

Well, it's later than we think. And it's time we defend the value of our time while we are still able to do it. I addressed this issue in more depth in these two pieces, which may be helpful to all agency and client personnel alike: “PR is not a toilet seat and should not be priced as such,” and “Don't give away the keys on contract negotiations.”

Maybe the commercial aspect of what we do is not much of a motivator, but in the world of the great time-shrink, it's becoming pretty personal. Isn't it time to get serious about standing our ground with procurement? 

Comments (and ideas) welcome.

Dave Senay is president and CEO of FleishmanHillard.

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