EDITORIAL: Balancing budgets affects both sides

The approach to pitching for business has shifted markedly in recent years, as this week's Choosing A Comms Agency special report illustrates.

Under the current economic malaise, those holding the purse strings face increasing pressure to justify spending on advisers, and this has led to several changes in the way PR is outsourced. Early on, clients showed a keenness for more short-term projects over retainers, since this allows for tighter management of both budgets and agency output. This, in turn, has led to more frequent pitches - a strategy employed by many clients to keep creativity 'fresh,' on the assumption that most of the creative thinking is generated during the quest for business.

But the most important factor to have emerged has been the rise in the willingness of clients to bring professional advice into the pitch when it comes to negotiating costs: the procurement consultants.

The main strength of a procurement consultant is rarely an ability to judge the chemistry between teams or the right match in cultures between an agency and a client, but to negotiate hard on fees. This has created a new and harsh world for agencies, which are generally - and rightly - better known for their PR work than for their negotiating skills.

In such circumstances, both sides have certain responsibilities. Clients have to take the time to brief agencies in detail on business objectives and how the prospective agency's work fits into that, while agencies must balance the need not to overpromise, with the need not to under-sell.

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