RICHARDSON, TX - PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the big five accounting firms, is moving into the PR agency selection business, and is handling the communications review for Nortel Networks.
A mandatory, three-year agency vendor review is underway as Nortel assesses its relationship with its agency of record Fleishman-Hillard. Fleishman is participating in the review.
Nortel would not comment for this story, and it is not known which division of PwC is executing the review. A spokesman in the PwC management and IT consulting group said it was not being handled by that team.
According to a source close to the review, the criteria outlined in the search emphasize heavily the financial aspect of the account. The RFP is said to include very little emphasis on communications strategy.
The source also said that a dozen PR firms were asked to provide information, based on the size and the scope of the agency.
Many companies retain consultants such as The Mercer Island Group, The Cantor Concern, and Swerling & Associates in their search processes. But the fact that Nortel is using a firm known more for accounting and auditing than communications strategy to conduct the review has taken many by surprise.
"This was the first I've heard of such a thing," said Jerry Swerling of Swerling & Associates. "It brings up lots of questions. Number one is: What do they know about PR? -- unless they've done something I'm not aware of."
Bob Ferrante, MD of The Cantor Concern, said that while he will get referrals from accounting firms, he also has not heard of an outfit like PwC actually conducting the review. "It might indicate the client has trust in them, because it is a very personalized business at times," he said.
As some PR accounts become increasingly international and consolidated with just a few agencies, budgets are coming under as close scrutiny as any other service purchased from outside the company.
"Does this suggest that some think anyone can do what the firms do, and it really comes down to who's cheapest?" Swerling said. "For me, that is a worrisome question."
"It would strike me as more financially driven than communications driven," said Pete Bogda, president of Aschenbaum Bogda Associates, a firm that helps companies conduct PR and ad agency reviews.
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