Giving and receiving can both be pretty good!
Many of us in PR work, or have worked, pro bono, which is an abbreviated form of the Latin term pro bono publico that means “for the public good.” (When I looked up that definition, I also learned that the American Bar Association recommends that lawyers in the United States contribute at least fifty hours of pro bono service per year.) While not mandatory in PR, pro bono work presents terrific career opportunities.
There are a lot of reasons to take on a pro bono PR assignment, such as:
- Supporting a pet cause
- Gaining professional experience
- Balancing other work assignments and/or enjoying a change of pace
- Networking and making connections
- Exploring a new field
- Giving back
It sounds pretty rosy and pro bono projects certainly can be. But I’ve also talked to folks on the receiving end and heard about “good intentions gone wrong” or, if not completely wrong, just not ideal. Consider the non-profit whose board member included the head of a national PR firm. His agency provided PR counsel pro bono to the non-profit and its internal team on an ongoing basis. That meant that the pro bono team varied according to agency member availability and the agency applied many of its standard PR campaign practices even when they weren’t the best fit for the non-profit’s target audience. The pro bono recipients are grateful for the PR work they receive but ideally would have liked to have more of a say in the efforts and tactics. At other times, pro bono PR relationships don’t work because the non-profit can’t support the donor – it may not have any internal staff or resources to keep momentum going. And, in a frustrating example for both sides, sometimes the pro bono assignment goes south because of a lack of clear expectations.
I don’t think these examples are the norm, however; I only mention them to illustrate the importance of having a clear understanding of project scope when you take on a pro bono PR project. Spend time understanding what type of PR assignment is needed, what the timeframe will be, who the supporting players are (and whether training them could be the most beneficial contribution you make) and what type of outcome is expected. Careful planning and good communication in the beginning will make your pro bono PR experience a positive one.
Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. Learn more her here.