The big debate: do ideas-only briefs devalue PR agencies?

Tech start-up TransferWise was criticised last week for asking PR agencies to present an idea to be executed by another agency.

Would you pitch for an ideas-only brief? (Credit: Thinkstock)
Would you pitch for an ideas-only brief? (Credit: Thinkstock)

Mandy Sharp of Tin Man Communications took issue with the payments company but others were not so convinced.

PRWeek invited Sharp and Piracy Corporation's Martin Ballantine to debate whether ideas-only briefs devalue PR agencies. 

Yes, says Mandy Sharp, founder of Tin Man Communications

Tin Man was recently asked to pitch in an ‘idea-only’ scenario. It’s something I’ve never been asked before and it felt instinctively wrong.

Firstly, the low value this  client wanted to pay for a successful ‘idea’, compared with the full budget they had available to deliver it, felt completely disproportionate. To ask agencies to ‘pitch’ for a £3k idea that another agency will then have a £40k-£50k budget to execute, make money on and receive recognition for is disrespectful for both agencies.

To me, this sort of approach is indicative of the problems facing the PR Industry today. Agencies such as ours pride ourselves on coming up with fantastic ideas that are not only creative but strategically sound. This takes time, research and skill. So why is so little value put on this part of the pitch process? 

Obviously, when working as a central hub agency for global brands the remit is different. We are hired specifically to devise creative and strategic campaigns that are then implemented by local agencies with extensive knowledge about what works in their market. However, even this process should be done in partnership. Ideas and concepts are always tested and discussed with local teams during the planning stage to ensure they will deliver against the objectives.

Often a great campaign idea can live or die through good or bad activation. To hand that control over to a PR team you’ve never met before would be extremely unnerving. And, from the other perspective, this process robs the activation agency of any creative licence. In my eyes, nobody wins in this scenario.

No, says Martin Ballantine, MD of Piracy Corporation

Bemused, not disgusted, of Tunbridge Wells here. Blimey, I can think of a lot more industry ‘issues’ to get hot and bothered about. There’s such an immense irony to all this industry ‘ire’! It’s as if all the bemoaning we’ve done – collectively as a profession over decades – about clients not appreciating, or paying for, ideas has been for naught. Suddenly, we’re peeved that they’re now ‘cheapening’ things by actually paying for an idea. Heaven forbid! 

Put simply, TransferWise is not ‘devaluing’ anything. How can it be? The fact is that it’s putting an actual value on a creative idea. Yes, stumping up cash for a great idea. How nice is that? Better yet, how right is that? Isn’t it what we’ve always longed for? 

What’s more, they’re being completely upfront about it. I actually – shock, horror – feel really sorry about the kicking they’re being given by some of my peers.  

Back in days of yore, I had an agency called Revolver. We charged a creative fee. Clients paid it when we won their pitch. It was a premium to hire us and was, then, unique. The important thing was that it acknowledged the value of (winning) ideas; that PRs are not just about clocking up and charging for working hours (and filling in time sheets) like mindless automatons. 

So surely commercially minded PR folk are happy to sell ideas – we don’t have to simply maintain a raft of retained clients, do we? Idea projects are, well, fun and can even provide a bit of a ‘fillip’ to break up the working week. How about a 10 per cent cut for the team member that gets their idea selected? See? This imagined cloud hanging over our industry isn’t bringing any rain and it even has several silver linings. 

Finally, don’t you think any business that’s based on blunting the banks’ ability to charge hidden fees should be given a bit of slack? 

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