The PR Show podcast: 'Stop commoditising PR' and 'be prepared before you pitch'

Procurement teams need to stop treating PR and comms as commodities like "photocopier paper or hand towels", while some agencies need a big wake-up call when it comes to preparing for the process.

The PR Show - Ep 3 panel: Arvind Hickman, Mandy Sharp, James Herring and Tanya Ridd
The PR Show - Ep 3 panel: Arvind Hickman, Mandy Sharp, James Herring and Tanya Ridd

That’s the verdict of the panel on the latest episode of The PR Show podcast. This special episode on pitching features Taylor Herring founder and CEO James herring, Tin Man founder Mandy Sharp and Snap international communications director Tanya Ridd.

Herring, who at the PR360 conference described the modern state of procurement as "a shit show", elaborated on his views.

'A shallow, time-wasting beauty parade' - what agency leaders really think about pitching

"It’s probably about 50 per cent of them. The problem with it is that PR is a creative business; we’re not a commodity product. And the trouble is there aren’t that many specialists in procurement who procure creative services," he told The PR Show.

"It’s not an exaggeration to say I have spoken to people in procurement who have just come off the phone trying to do a deal on photocopier paper or hand towels, and then you try to find yourself trying to have a discussion about what you do and there’s a lack of understanding.

"I think modern procurement has made a complicated process far more complicated than it needs to be."

Sharp said a major source of frustration for her was bloated pitch lists, which several other leaders have complained about to PRWeek about in a feature on pitching.

She recalls at least two instances with big brands where they have invited eight agencies to write full pitches and send through pitch decks without any face-to-face meetings.

"For me that is totally flawed and pointless for at least seven of those agencies," Sharp explained.

"A more common process would be to come in and meet them for chemistry or creds, sometimes they’ll give us a challenge, which gives them an indication of your thinking. From that they will whittle it to three agencies and from there you will go and pitch and present ideas.

"The key is having the right people in the room."

Sharp has five golden rules for pitching, which you can listen to in the full podcast.

Snapchat’s Ridd agrees clients should be targeted about who they invite to pitch and keep the field "quite small".

"It’s in your own interests [as a client] to look at this in terms of very meaningful choices you make along the way," she told The PR Show.

"I agree about respect. All of the best relationships we do with our agency partners is built on a partnership of trust."

From a client perspective, she has also experienced flaws in the system, particularly with unprepared agencies.

"Sometimes you start a pitch and you know quite quickly their is a lack of connection, a lack of understanding of the business...basic errors of what the company is and what it does. A lack of reading of the brief," she said.

"Sometimes the ideas are quite blue sky and difficult to implement and not clear where the PR value is going to be. You are early on in those discussion and have to go through an hour-and-a-half or two-hour process, knowing that from the outset."

PRWeek plans to get more client views on pitching over the next week.

Listen to The PR Show to find out how Taylor Herring responds to ‘cut and paste’ briefs, pitch horror stories, what agencies and clients really think about the role of procurement and consultants, and how they panel thinks the pitch process can be improved.

Check out more episodes of The PR Show and other PRWeek podcasts here

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