Heriot-Watt University drops controversial plans to charge PR agencies to tender

A Scottish university which planned to charge agencies to see tender documents has backed down after the move was widely criticised.

Heriot-Watt: asked interested agencies to pay £200
Heriot-Watt: asked interested agencies to pay £200

Heriot-Watt University issued a £1.5 million PR, marketing and media brief on 17 October and demanded that interested agencies paid £200 to see tender documents.  

The university has now told PRWeek it has waived the fee following an industry backlash.  

Heriot-Watt’s chief procurement officer Tony Newjem said: ‘The intention was genuinely to discourage spurious bids but given the level of concern the proposed fee generated, in principle, we have decided to waive it.’  

The contract framework will be divided eight ways: PR and direct marketing UK (£400,000;  PR and direct marketing Dubai campus (to be advised);  public affairs (£100,000); media monitoring (£105,000); graphic design and distribution (£100,000); market research (£450,000), photography (£50,000) and marketing (£140,000).  

PR professionals contacted by PRWeek had earlier condemned the £200 fee.  

Media House International executive chairman Jack Irvine commented: ‘Public bodies pile farcical rules on top of the already ludicrous edicts generated by the EC. Just recently Glasgow University said it wouldn’t consider a PR firm unless its turnover exceeded £10 million, thus ruling out all indigenous consultancies. One also has to ask why Heriot-Watt, with its already bloated staff, has to pay £1.5 million for services that its in-house team could generate assuming it has the requisite expertise.’  

Irvine also told PRWeek that he was planning to pass on the information to Scottish minister Alex Neil, MSP, who is responsible for procurement.  

Georgie Cameron, MD of Admiral PR, added: ‘If this approach became commonplace, it would add significant costs to the new business development process, reducing margins and resulting in smaller, often more creative agencies, dropping out of the process altogether.’  

Kindred director Lorna Gozzard agreed: ‘By not allowing agencies to see the initial documents for free, Heriot-Watt made it very difficult for agencies to decide if the tender is suited to their skills and experience, and if it’s worth them applying. As a result, it risked excluding potentially excellent candidates from the tender process, especially smaller or independent agencies.’

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