Improving numbers do not curtail ongoing uncertainty

The numbers are in and the agency rankings are closed for another year.

The numbers are in and the agency rankings are closed for another year. PRWeek's reporters and editors are busy extrapolating facts from agency leadership on individual performance, as well as a broader indication of the trends driving the overall business. The results of this labor will be presented in the May issue, the annual Agency Business Report.

It is fair to say that there is a distinct uncertainty in the air, as more and more agency CEOs are confessing their prevailing concerns about the stability of the so-called recovery. The first quarter has been strong, but not a slam-dunk for most. Accounts are still being pitched and won, but the new normal means that is not always the end of the story. Projects can fall apart as in-house teams lose budget battles, even for programs that had previously been green-lighted.

Many of these clients are at the mercy of the whims of senior management and are just as keen as their agencies to get these programs off the ground. But when times are tough - and make no mistake, in spite of the green shoots of growth, things are still quite difficult out there in the agency world - much of the chatter tends to turn to clients who do their agencies wrong.

A recent situation I was privy to gave me some insight into the kinds of conflicts that can engender blind rage at the mere mention of a problem client or prospect. A prospect was given a marketing plan that included numerous creative, primarily online, ideas that had been developed by a high-level team at the organization. This was not an off-the-shelf proposal, but one that had been lovingly tailored for specific execution with this client.

Client loves the idea, but comes back in two days asking for dramatic price reduction. The reason: the client showed the entire plan to a competing organization, and, of course, was given a counteroffer to execute the program at a much lower rate.

There are ways to protect ideas, of course, though proving intellectual-property hijacking is difficult. Isn't it time for the industry to mobilize a systematic means to out problem clients, as well as firms that enable this behavior? While still relatively uncommon, these situations pollute goodwill, stymie innovation, endanger the profession's credibility and the spirit of partnership, and help support the notion of PR as a commodity. Senior leaders outside the function will only see the price, not the cost. That's bad for everyone.

Julia Hood is the publishing director of PRWeek. She can be contacted at julia.hood@prweek.com.

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