The BLACK paPR Report


PR from an African American Perspective

Colleague to Colleague: Setting Fees

I’m cheating today – kind of. The information I’ve posted is my edited response to a member of Young PR Pros about setting fees. If I sound like an expert on the subject it’s because as we say in the black community “a hard head makes for a soft behind.” I’ve learned these lessons the hard way and from talking to other professionals. 

This is a hard line of work, so I believe we sometimes need to take a hardline approach to getting paid. Hope this information helps. 


Setting fees is relative to your specialty, your location of service, experience and the clientele you will service. I’ve bullet-pointed the things I’ve learned since striking out on my own and maybe that will give you food for thought and I’ve pasted a couple of links below. Writer’s Market has a great rate sheet (take advantage of 30-day trial for sheet) and I’ve listed a couple of links below that should give you an idea about services.

  • Try not to ever negotiate your fees. The first compromise can lead to many others in the client/practitioner relationship with you coming out on the short end. If it’s absolutely necessary to negotiate and lower fees, make sure you’re getting the best possible deal too.
  • Charge like a lawyer: hourly consultant’s fee, monthly retainer or flat fee paid up front. If I have someone who wants to pay monthly, that person pays more b/c they could try to over work me the first month to avoid paying the rest of the contract and that leads me to this …
  • In your contract add attachments for (1) client’s stated goals (2) your deliverables (3) the timeline and (4) fees not covered in contract; this will protect you. A clear timeline of deliverables can help in avoiding dealing with a client situation as described above.
  • Time is money. Always consider that if you don’t charge adequately you can’t serve others and you can’t pay your bills. I spoke with a business ethicist one time who told me that it was irresponsible to do things for free and that the only time you do work for free is when (1) the benefits are astounding and (2) someone (generally a poor person or charity) has no demonstratable means of repayment.

As a contractor, do not be swayed into believing that you have the lesser role. You will probably be working like crazy and investing your intellectual capital, so sit down with the person and do a painstakingly detailed list of duties and weigh your time and talent appropriately. Recently, I had a client like that and stated a flat fee only rate knowing that whatever I did would be more than what he did and lend more value to his project. And I was right and earned every bit of my money. In the end, he was pleasantly surprised, respected my value as a professional and apologized for trying to force me into performing work not stated in my deliverables because my deliverables delivered more than his.

Best, Robin



Filed under: African Americans, Colleague to Colleague, fees, Help for the Practitioner, PR Standards & Practices, Public Relations, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

A Multi-Million Dollar PR Intervention: Saving the Black Pro Football Player

I received a distress call from people close to a member of the San Francisco 49ers franchise requesting my services as a PR consultant. The player was on the verge of hurting his public image and his career with his on and off-field antics. He was a hot-head, a loose cannon with no self-edit button. He’d say anything, do anything and played so aggressively it caused people to be concerned about the safety of other players. Yet, the caller assured me that he really was a great guy, a misunderstood person in need of my services.

So I did some research and learned that this player who had an excellent record as a player, had a horrible reputation as a human being and had been tossed from a series of teams throughout his short NFL career because of his inability to work and play well with others. I read his bio and a few articles that discussed his troubled childhood, and started to see the bigger picture that made all of his work in the community make sense. He didn’t just give away toys and turkeys, he gave himself as a mentor to young boys on the block in need of guidance and hope.

As a consultant, you want to feel your clients and empathize with them, and I liked this guy. In fact, it’s safe to say I felt his heart. However, there was one problem.

The player. He just wanted to play a nice guy on TV but didn’t want to give up the people and things that inspired him to be a bad guy on and off of the field. I explained that while there are magical qualities to public relations it wouldn’t be able to make his issues go away; he’d have to address them in an effort to make the public believe in him. He didn’t want to and hired someone else, his problems persisted and he was released from his contract. 

About a year later, Dallas Cowboy Terrell Owens found himself at the helm of a serious PR debacle following what has been described as an accidental overdose by some and a suicide attempt by others. Climbing out of that mess has been incredible for him. It still follows him though it is coupled with his infamous tirades on and off the field. The blessing in his case is that he still has a job and he’s still a hot property. 

One morning, I listened as comedian/radio talkshow host Steve Harvey spoke about the various trials of Terrell Owens. Harvey said he felt sorry for T.O. and other athletes and entertainers who have newly acquired wealth and notoriety. He said that he wished there was a place they could go to learn how to juggle the demands and troubles that come with the territory of being young, rich and famous, and black. And after hearing Harvey’s words, it all came together for me.

First of all, there is no one place for athletes and entertainers to go for sound advice on how to present themselves publicly in a way that makes them re-think how they live privately. Many years ago, I heard David Geffen say that whoever you are before the money is who you are after it. Truer words were never spoken. Still, I’d argue that David Geffen is not a commodity as these young men are, so to focus on internal struggles while trying to keep it together AND perform at an optimal level for the people who exploit you and count on you to entertain them is hard work.

Incredibly hard work.

This past week, Felicia Young, Vince Young’s mother told The Tennessean that her son was “hurting inside and out,” after the Titan quarterback alledgedly scared the willies out of coach Jeff Fisher enough for the coach to call 9-1-1. Young had a bad game on Sunday, throwing two interceptions, spraining his knee and being booed by the fans. Young disappeared for hours leaving a maelstom of media speculation concerning his whereabouts and mental state. News reports mentioned an unloaded pistol in his car’s glove compartment, and the fact that he’d left his cell phone at Fisher’s house. Of course, a hot mess ensued and now Young is being discussed in terms of his mental instability, his mediocre playing and his need to suck it up and get it together.

In an Associated Press editorial, columnist Tim Dahlberg states, “It’s true that all we usually see is the upside of being a famous professional athlete. We see the good times, the big money, the fancy Escalades, and the women who always seem to be hanging by the clubhouse gates.

“But when things go sour the stark reality of living up to everyone’s expectations can be hard to deal with. It’s not just the boos, but the feeling that they’ve failed in something they never once imagined they would ever fail in.”

Dahlberg gets it, or at least part of it. There’s more. 

We all usually see the ‘upside’ of being a famous professional athlete, but we never see the private side of most of these athletes who have to negotiate their worth and value in their sport while negotiating it with family, friends who want them to “keep it real and ‘hood,” and with the people who pay the bills. Internal struggles aren’t even a priority to these guys due to the pressures they face on a day to day basis. I challenge some of the naysayers to deal with a day of a thousand hands in your face wanting something for nothing, telephones that ring off of the hook with offers from people who want to exploit your brand, temptations from so-called friends and family to do things that could jeopardize your career (Mike Vick), while trying to keep your head on straight enough to keep on doing whatever it is you are expected to do on the field.

Face it, everybody ain’t Tiki Barber, a player I love and admire. If Tiki has or had one issue, we never knew it and that’s because he had a support system that enabled it to be that way. Vince Young, the player I mentioned first, Terrell Owens and countless others do not have that mechanism in place and it’s obvious.

As a PR consultant and publicist, I see the need for sports psychologists and experts on the politics of sports to start an education campaign that focuses on the issues many of these young athletes face. There are a number of black sports psychologists who can lend needed information on what goes on in the heads of these guys and who can help the public understand that there’s more to it than Vince and Terrell having ‘bad days.’ The need for information is not to justify but rather give insight. (I’m a proponent of psychological assessment of and therapies for black athletes at an early age, but that’s another blog.)

As a PR consultant and publicist, I am dumbfounded and almost speechless at the handling of these situations before they hit the press. The NFL and its teams have entirely too much power and juice to allow stories about their Vince Youngs to be blown out of proportion. In my humble opinion, Vince Young’s disappearance should have been handled more delicately and quietly. 

And as a PR consultant, I urge my fellow practitioners with sports clients to start becoming more transparent in their pitching of stories to the press. Fluff stories about community service are cool, but at the end of the day, we need to know about the person. We need to know and especially unforgiving fans and media need to know about the people who in spite of their pain and heartache go out on the field to help our pain go away. Honestly, it’s time to be more sophisticated in leveraging an athlete’s celebrity to gain public support in good times and bad.

In the meantime, I’ll be watching to see how Young rebounds from this mess, and praying that he is surrounded by at least one person with some sense to help him put this into its proper perspective. Someone needs to tell Young, “Yeah, millions  of dollars in a deal is great, but you’re worth so much more. For once, take care of you.”

Filed under: African Americans, Crisis Management, Mass-Mediated Images, Public Relations, Sports PR, The Black Pro Athlete, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Talk to Us, LeBron

There are people who know when they need a publicist or PR consultant and hunt us down. I love those people. Generally, they are savvy and understand that they are a brand or a brand in the making, and they understand the value of PR in getting them from point A to Z. These are the people we love and love to serve.

There is another group of people who kind of sort of think they need a PR consultant and/or publicist and they thoughtfully explore the option. We love them too, because they are people who want to make an informed decision before plunking down their hard-earned money. And they are generally great clients once they are convinced that we can serve them well.

There is yet a third group of people who truly believe they need a PR consultant and/or publicist and they really do not because they do not have any clearly defined goals or any knowledge of themselves as a brand. Some practitioners will take them on as a challenge while others will refer them to the practitioners who will take them on as a challenge. 

And then there are the people who really need a PR consultant and/or publicist but decide to wing it alone under the close watch of media critics and even fans. 

Just like my beloved LeBron James. 

LeBron, you really should hire me

On the Monday following the Cleveland Browns’ gift of a win to the Dallas Cowboys in Cleveland, no less, one of my favorite Plain Dealer columnists Phillip Morris wrote an editorial (Sick of LeBron James Not Cheering for Cleveland) about LeBron’s chronic and flagrant support of opposing teams. Phillip wrote:

“Sunday, I passed the point where I can ignore James’ trumpeting of his loyalties to other teams. When he hugged and chatted up Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones on the sidelines before Sunday’s Brown’s debacle, I could look at the greeting as two businessmen trading stock tips. But then James, wearing a Yankees cap, extended the same warm embrace to players Terrell Owens and Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones. While Browns receiver Donte’ Stallworth was busy pulling a groin muscle during warm-ups, James was on the Cowboys sideline encouraging Owens to get the ‘popcorn ready.'”

Geez, LeBron, if you’re ticking off Phillip, another person who could use a publicist, then how do you think the people who buy the tickets to watch you play feel? It’s really not a good look to tell people who love you — who buy the tickets, the gear and pay the taxes that support the Q where you work — that you don’t care for our city’s teams.  Am I oversimplifying matters? Please help.  

I guess it wouldn’t be so bad, but LeBron doesn’t talk to the fans vis-a-vis the press about his choice to wear a Yankees cap and root for the Cowboys. Just like he didn’t talk about that controversial Vogue cover. Though he did talk about being cited for driving 101 mph calling it “no big deal.”

Oh yeah, there was also the time LeBron refused to sign a letter condemning the Chinese government’s part in the genocide in Darfur. 

You said you didn’t have enough information to comment. I would have briefed you, LeBron, that is if I were your PR consultant. 

Recently, named Mr. James a Do Wrong Man for the above-mentioned infractions, a distinction that was borderline self-righteous on their part, but one that deserved a reasonable response other than the one stated in their profile. “Everything my name is on is going to be criticized … Who cares what anyone says?” Unfortunately, thought a whole bunch of black female consumers who have purchasing power and buy his sneakers and jerseys for their kids would care. 

As a PR consultant, I know how difficult it is to convince a client that they should care about what anyone says, still one word seems to work. MONEY. 

MONEY as in income source is a pretty good reason to care. Ultimately, people tire of being mocked and abused, and will place their dollar loyalties elsewhere. Fans don’t mind a sports star having their favorites, but in this case LeBron is from northeast Ohio and is employed by a northeast Ohio team. Perhaps, LeBron’s fans are owed some consideration for their loyalties to the city and especially to him. 

That was my first bit of free advice and here is my second: Talk. Talk to us, the fans and stakeholders in your career, and tell us the things we need to hear to remain (1) engaged with you in meaningful dialogue and (2) endeared to you.  We’re grateful you’re doing philanthropic work in the community, but that’s not the only time we need to hear from you. If you could just stop taunting us with the Yankee caps and public support of opposing teams, we’ll probably remain loyal to you should you decide to ever leave. 

So LeBron, how do we make this right? How can we make this better? Silence can be cruel, don’t be cruel. Hire a PR consultant. Talk. 

Best, Robin Caldwell

Filed under: African Americans, Crisis Management, Media Relations, Public Relations, Sports PR, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fee Transparency: Services from a Value Menu

“Long tagged an unquantifiable variable since their inception, public relations firms the world over have scrapped, bitten and clawed to justify their very existence. Many campaigns have launched products and people into the stratosphere. Untold scores, however, have fizzled during launch, or worse, never gotten off the ground. When that happens, it can be a budgetary nightmare of epic proportions.” —PR Firm Shakes Up Industry With Transparent Pricing

My first thought in reading the above paragraph was, ‘They’ve been hanging around in some low places.’ Most firms, especially small independent PR firms, only scrap, bite and claw to justify their existence and fees among people who do not value the worth of public relations and publicity. We spend a lot of time educating individuals on the legitimacy of public relations and publicity as smart business practices. [African American flacks have to prove that we’re not like Tommy on the Martin Show. Remember? “Tommy ain’t got no job.” Well, that’s how some people treat what we do and who we are as professionals. I digress…]

Budgetary nightmares of “epic proportions” generally are not the fault of PR campaigns. I won’t place blame in any one direction, but will charge everyone/everything from the visionary to the marketing plan to the public relations consultant or practitioner for not marking a winning strategy. You could even blame inexperience and inflexibility, but to blame a PR campaign is ludicrous.  If a campaign launches a person or product into the stratosphere, it’s most likely because the launch is not supported by a clear marketing mission aimed at a target or goal. Someone probably forgot to ask “What is the desired end result?”

Okay, rant finished. Time for the real fight.

Transparency in fees is not a new concept, but the company who put out that release would have an unsuspecting public believe that it is new. Most firms of any worth or value do not treat their fee schedules like the ordering board in a fast food restaurant. Most will do an assessment of the client’s stated needs against their marketing plan and then prescribe a public relations and/or publicity plan that is not only complimentary but cost-efficient. Cost-efficiency should also include the number of hours it takes to labor over a project as well as the worth and value of the labor or laborers.

To menu-ize (yep, I made that word up) services is to  minimize both the value of the client and their project as well as the value of the service and servant (practitioner). Of course, there are people who would run straight to the value menu but there are many others with more specific needs and they will labor with a practitioner to come up with the very best possible plan for their campaign with and without thought to cost. And a smart practitioner will ask almost immediately, “What is your budget?” leaving very little room for exploitation and a great deal of room for the client to decide if they will increase or decrease the budget amount after an outline of services is provided with a QUOTE.

You cannot be anymore vulnerable and transparent than when you hand over the quote. At that point, the ball is in the client’s court. 

There is no reason for a practitioner to play for their pay. The independent practitioner takes risks everyday with the retainer client alone. What is the impetus for that type of client-practitioner relationship? Honestly, there is none, and here’s why …

Public relations and publicity are cost centers that only enhance a marketing plan. That should be established up front with clients, so that there are no false expectations. Moreover, public relations and pubicity require the practitioner to lend their resources, intellectual capital and time to make clients look good, establish a presence and create opportunities for exposure on their behalves within a specific market.

“You wouldn’t go buy a car, clothes, a house, etc. that someone says might show up or might work. You buy these things because you can touch them and feel them. You know where your money is going. Public Relations firms should have the same respect for you, your business and your money. We do. That’s what sets us apart.” 

Someone needs to inform the writer of this quote that public relations is not a practice that has historically given anyone something tangible — something to touch or feel. Again, it is a cost center and as such it supports. If a practitioner promises something you can touch or feel, then something is wrong. If a practitioner is truly respectful, then they will (1) make an assessment based on the client’s stated needs and desired goals, (2) create an outline of services matching the stated needs and (3) offer a fair quote for their labor. And they will not promise something they cannot deliver let alone a one-size fits all PR/publicity plan, which is incredibly disrespectful to the client and the profession.

The things that should set a PR firmapart are quality of work and integrity.

Dang, who would have thought I’d live to see a day when PR needs a publicist?

Best, Robin Caldwell

Filed under: African Americans, Client Relations, Ethics, Fees and Rates, Help for the Practitioner, PR Standards & Practices, Public Relations, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,