By James Kelliher It’s good to see that recently, more agencies have started to move away from the old model of selling time without commitment to activity and results. Realistically however, the epiphany that this outdated model is frustrating for clients is too little, too late. In fact, results-based PR is something progressive agencies have used and championed for years based on the understanding that clients want tangible outcomes – not excuses. This means fixed budgets based on agreed deliverables, rather than time incurred by the agency. It requires firm commitments to campaign deliverables (inputs), firm commitments to campaign outputs (measured by qualitative and quantities metrics) and above all, firm commitments to campaign outcomes. All of which should be backed up with a formal service level agreement that provides a pro-rata fee rebate if the above targets are not achieved (i.e. 10% below target = 10% fee rebate, 15% below target = 15% fee rebate and so on). Rather than wasting money on PR campaigns that fail to deliver the right messages to the right audience and influence behaviour, this mix of results-driven strategy and guaranteed outcomes will do precisely what clients want and need in terms of increased awareness levels, positive perceptions and intended behaviours among their target audiences. From an operational point of view, getting rid of timesheets is a given: they are archaic and of absolutely no interest to organisations. Having teams of generalists, rather than specialists which, from a client’s perspective, produce varying qualities of work is also very unsatisfactory. Which is precisely why work should be structured around the strengths and skills of individual staff. Although some agencies are now rolling out this skills-based model as a selling point – albeit using different terminology – others continue to hold back because they think specialists are too difficult to recruit. Our experience shows the opposite is true – as well as achieving a higher quality of deliverables, people welcome the opportunity to do what they enjoy the most and are strongest at. Then there’s the issue of strategy and effectiveness: it’s one thing to talk about different engagement channels but realistically, to ‘cut through the noise’ in the modern day communications landscape has never been more challenging. For the newcomers to results-based PR, the risk of course is that this approach could end up just being window dressing. The real acid test for clients is whether or not agencies are prepared to put their money where their mouth is and provide robust performance targets linked to real business outcomes – i.e. sales and revenue – that are backed by formal, contractual SLAs. James Kelliher is chairman and CEO of UK tech PR firm Whiteoaks