By Todd Murphy | July 28th, 2020
PR professional: “Hello, I would like to change and possibly cancel my service with you.”
Their media monitoring vendor: “Surprise! We already renewed your contract! In the fine print we sent you last year, there’s a 90-day auto-renewal clause you may not have noticed. The good news is that you’re now locked into our service for another year. So regardless of any problems you have, you can’t switch to another media monitoring or measurement provider … unless you want to pay for two services!”
90-day Auto-Renewals for Media Monitoring or Measurement Services
Unfortunately, this offensive practice has become common among some of the larger PR software vendors in the United States. It used to be that only one vendor used this strategy to lock in clients, making it difficult for customers to switch. Some of the clients we serve today have tried this vendor at some point, only to return to us when their terms were fulfilled. About one-third of those clients have been bitten by the 90-day auto-renewal that was part of the agreement they signed.
If you haven’t experienced the outrage of being auto-renewed, let me explain what we hear from prospects when this happens. Well … many of their words I can’t reprint here. But I will say we’ve received calls, emails, and even seen posts on Twitter that go something like, “How can they get away with a 90-day auto-renewal? I’m so _____!”
Since most companies, vendors, utilities, and other services may require a 30-day cancellation notice, that is what users expect to find when trying to cancel with a PR service provider. If that vendor has a 60-day or 90-day auto-renewal, then this professional communicator may be caught off-guard, unaware that they needed to call three months in advance to cancel their service.
So why do a few companies use a 90-day auto-renewal? Frankly, I know of only two reasons. First, a company can demonstrate a higher value by holding long-term agreements with iron-clad clauses for auto-renewals. If an outsider were to look at purchasing one of these services, the vendor showing them their book of long-term agreements would have value. Second, nobody really plans ahead more than a month or so, so they are fairly certain the auto-renewals will occur. If a dispute comes up, many mid-level professionals would rather not draw attention to the problem than ask their executives to help dissolve the agreement. Most people, including myself, don’t like to spotlight their mistakes.
Benefits of A Service Agreement
Now let’s contrast these extremely long auto-renewal periods with what is more customer friendly, like a service agreement.
- By signing an agreement, you are establishing a relationship with your news monitor or PR measurement provider. This helps them invest in your needs going forward. It is their hope that you will be extremely pleased during that first year and continue to use them well into the future. An agreement lets you secure discount pricing, or even avoid hikes in service costs that may come later in the year. With an annual agreement from Universal, your pricing is guaranteed for at least that first year.
- What is more popular among innovative companies is a 30-day auto-renewal, with a clause that effectively lets you out any time after an initial term. Again, to use our agreement as an example, if for some reason a client of ours no longer needs the services after 9 months, we will let them cancel the service with only a 30-day notice. This can also help with unplanned catastrophes, like in the case of a pandemic, for example. We have one client that provides PR services for Broadway productions in New York City. Clearly, the pandemic took their business to zero, through no fault of their own. What kind of company would Universal be if we didn’t align our concerns with those of our clients, and provide them the ability to shut down services until they might need them in the future.
- Lastly, even a good service agreement should benefit the customer. By putting it in writing that we will not hold a client captive, this helps us at the sales level. Our belief is that by ending an account on friendly terms, that client is much more likely to return when they find that their new vendor cannot offer what we do. If we were to infuriate a client that no longer needed our services, I would not only expect them never to use us again, but I would fear they would tell their PR friends of our poor business practices. The definition of a “good deal” is a deal that benefits both parties.
“We wanted to test the waters with a bigger monitoring company. The constant up-selling on new products became very old and the decision was made to return to Universal – who offered the same scope of services… Sometimes you have to test those waters to truly realize what good service and a good company you truly have.” -Claudia Bohn, Director of Public Relations/Communications
How to Avoid the 90-Day Surprise Auto-Renewal
Above all the steps outlined below, having a good relationship with a trusted vendor is the key to everything. However, be sure you ask at least these three questions prior to signing any agreement with a media monitoring or measurement service.
- Make sure you have received sample deliverables and have compared them to what you expect. Even better, if you are currently working with a media monitoring service, ask them to compare the results from this prospective vendor with what they are producing for you. This has two amazing effects. First, the incumbent will be able to spot any duplication or false positives delivered by the prospecting vendor. The incumbent has a real interest in identifying how the prospective vendor may be misleading you with false results … the incumbent wants to keep your business. Secondly, during a sales pitch, it is easy to become emotional about something you see in the presentation and forget to look deeper into the elements that truly matter, like comprehensiveness and accuracy of results.
- Be honest with yourself about what are your true priorities. Do you want an easier interface, but at the expense of comprehensive media coverage? Are you willing to trade on-call service and support, for a DIY solution that lets you create your own searches? Speaking of your own searches, how confident are you that you can generate better search results than a professional search strategist at a vendor that delivers a concierge experience?
- Lastly, read your service agreement. Really, I know this is the last thing you have time for, but ultimately you may have very little recourse from some vendors after you sign and submit their agreement.
There are several very good vendor options for media monitoring and PR measurement. My company, Universal Information Services, could be a great fit for you. We have many clients that have been with us for decades, but I would be lying if I were to say we’re the right fit for everyone. Our clients tend to want more service and support, and very accurate results from all media, but you may need something different.
You can easily Google alternatives to the vendor you are using, and then follow the three steps mentioned above before signing any agreement. Maybe you need the cheapest service, or the easiest portal, or something that lets you do all the work yourself, or maybe you only like user interfaces that have an orange theme … whatever. The bottom line is that you have options and there are plenty of vendors that want to earn and keep your business. Of course, if you want to speak with Universal Information Services just call (402) 342-3178 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love providing honest and direct ideas.