A couple of years ago I got a panicked call from a potential client. We'll call her Mabel.
Mabel and I had chatted over many months, which isn't unusual in the public relations industry. PR is a long-term investment and sometimes people want to mull it over, or wait until their book is published or their product is about to hit the stores. Mabel had a fabulous book about to be released and it should be a blockbuster. But her funds were limited and she told me, honestly, that she was price shopping. In the end she said she'd decided to go with us, I drew up the contract for her and... crickets.
This doesn't happen often, but it does happen. It leaves me feeling like a jilted bride every time. I'd put my heart and soul into the process, and agreed to represent someone and to be left at the altar can be discouraging. But, like every mother tells her daughter, there are plenty of fish in the sea. So I brushed it off and kept going.
A couple months went by until I got a desperate text from Mabel. "PLEASE call," it begged. So I called.
"If I sign the contract with you today, how quickly can you start the campaign?" she asked in a harried voice.
"Well...I can see what I can do!" I answered truthfully. "We have our plates full right now but this sounds urgent. What happened?"
"I went with the cheapest option," she confessed. "I signed with someone else and it's all gone sideways."
There's an old saying: "Pay peanuts, get monkeys."
The person she signed with wasn't even backed by a company. She was a lone producer. I've almost never run into a lone producer that was any good. They need a team behind them to keep them challenged and up-to-date. PR is like anything else. Styles and methods change and, sadly you obviously can't be an expert at everything! So this particular campaign devolved into a hot mess of thinly-disguised insults and promises broken.
But Mabel got her money back, which she promptly applied to inking a deal with me. For a little more money, she got an entire team of people behind her, working tirelessly on her behalf. And these people are good: They make me look good.
Some people would say that Mabel got what she deserved, but she isn't familiar with the industry. For all she knew, she was getting equivalent service at a cheaper price. And haven't we all done something similar? I used to buy cheap heels at a bargain store, but I can testify that their shoes don't hold up as well as many more expensive models made from solid leather and superior engineering. You get what you pay for.
So how can you tell the difference between getting a bargain or simply being ripped off?
If Mabel had looked up the One Hit Wonder, she would have discovered that there were little-to-no reviews of her and no track record, while there were tons of reviews for me and my colleagues.
But Mabel didn't want to look too deeply.
After all, a cheap pair of heels usually looks identical to the better-quality alternative. And if you're wearing those shoes for only one occasion, a cheap pair will do. Why would you care how they're engineered?
But Mabel made the mistake of looking for cost, and not quality, in a service that could make or break her entry into the Big Leagues. Although it's not always necessary to research every purchase, this was something that should have been investigated thoroughly.
You wouldn't buy the cheapest car with a poor safety rating, would you? No. You'd weigh the pros and cons and, hopefully, choose one that cost a little more that would allow you to survive a 30 mph collision.
Luckily Mabel had the ability to reverse her decision with little-to-no impact. We aren't always so lucky.