BAA slammed over 'exploitation' after charging PR agencies to pitch

BAA has been accused of 'unacceptable exploitation' after it emerged the airport operator is charging agencies to be considered for a place on its PR roster.

High powered: BAA owns several airports in England and Scotland
High powered: BAA owns several airports in England and Scotland

In February the owner of Heathrow and Stansted kicked off a review of its £4m, four-year comms roster, covering media relations, public affairs, consumer PR and crisis comms.

Agencies were asked to provide submissions for one or more of the five ‘lots’ (see below). Participants are now awaiting the decision of the first round of the process.

PRWeek has learned from a number of sources with knowledge of the pitch that BAA is demanding a payment of around £1,000 for each of the five areas for which they wish to enter submissions.

BAA insisted it was merely looking to ‘cover expenses’ incurred as a result of EU regulation. However, one senior agency source pointed out that BAA has asked agencies to provide strategic comms advice around a number of issues in their submissions – effectively making the agencies pay the company for the privilege of giving advice.

Client-driven ‘pitch fees’ have sporadically been an issue in the advertising sector, but one senior communicator said they had never experienced them in the PR industry.

The fees were roundly condemned by industry bodies.

PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham commented: ‘If these figure are correct this is unacceptable exploitation on BAA’s part – it’s no way to build a successful client-agency relationship.’

CIPR director of policy and comms Phil Morgan concurred, saying: ‘It’s hard to see how adding to the existing overheads in the procurement process could be a good idea. Particularly as the likely consequence of what BAA is doing might be to rule out smaller and more innovative agencies that might not be able to afford such a large fee.’

It is thought that the complexity and depth of the BAA procurement process caused more than one agency to decline to participate, but a number of agencies admitted to begrudgingly paying the fees for a chance to win a place on the lucrative roster.

A BAA spokesperson said: ‘As a regulated business, BAA is required to carry out tenders under the EU Public Procurement Utilities Directive.

‘This regulatory requirement carries with it certain costs for the online tendering tool and the payment of a fee allows the company to cover these expenses.’


BAA PR roster

  • Media relations and corporate reputation. Budget: £600k-£1.2m*
  • Policy and public affairs, London and UK. Budget: £500k-£800k*
  • Policy and public affairs, EU and Brussels. Budget: £300k-£400k*
  • Consumer and brand PR. Budget: £600k-£1.2m*
  • Crisis comms. Budget: £540k-£720k*
  • Incumbents Blue Rubicon, Finsbury, Mischief and Regester Larkin.

* Estimated budget over the lifetime of the contract: three years, plus a year’s extension.

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