Clients only get what they pay for

As well as the annual PR wheeze of April Fools' Day (Google's treasure maps being a particular winner in my book), the beginning of the month also kicks off the new financial year for many businesses.

Alec Mattinson: 'equitable relationships between clients and agencies and fair pitch processes are an issue for all industry participants'
Alec Mattinson: 'equitable relationships between clients and agencies and fair pitch processes are an issue for all industry participants'

At PRWeek Towers we are currently bashing away at the calculators to compile our annual Top 150 league table – and the likelihood is we’ll once again see decent industry growth despite the grim economic conditions in the UK and beyond.

Both in-house and agency functions have so far weathered the downturn in reasonable shape, despite various threats to comms budgets and staffing levels over that period.

There is certainly a sense though that the power has shifted even further to the client side in recent times, something doubtless behind Beige’s attempts to bind clients to a formal agreement to commence paid work once a pitch is completed.

It has not become uncommon to hear that a potentially lucrative multi-agency pitch has ground to a quiet halt without an appointment being made, or in some cases an agency winning the business only to see it dissolve into nothing before they’ve even issued their first billing.

The possible reasons are hugely varied – from understandable issues relating to budgets being pulled or dramatic changes in clients’ circumstance, to fishing expeditions where clients hope to uncover fresh ideas and gauge the market.

On some level that is unfortunately just life at an agency – the nature of new business is inherently speculative after all.

It is also the responsibility of agencies themselves to use their judgement on new business opportunities – while there are obvious temptations to shoot for as many pitches as possible, agencies need to read the warning signs for themselves about processes with tens of agencies involved or clients that won’t take face-to-face meetings.

But clients also need to be mindful of taking advantage of the ‘buyer’s market’ to an extent that verges on exploitation.

The best clients know that cutting corners is a false economy and the best work will be from those agencies they build strong relationships with and treat with respect.

It is natural that clients want to eke the most from their compressed budgets, but equitable relationships between clients and agencies and fair pitch processes are an issue for all industry participants. You only get what you pay for – that remains true in times of both boom and bust.

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