Healthcare: Agencies bemoan shortfall of high-calibre senior staff

The lack of quality senior staff is the issue keeping healthcare agency bosses awake at night more than any other, according to a survey unveiled last week.

A 'limited pool of high-calibre candidates at senior and middle levels' is the most significant business issue facing agencies' top brass, the Healthcare Communications Association's (HCA) annual Benchmarking Survey said.

Ninety-one per cent of firms expected to increase their headcount this year but recruitment costs rocketed by 33 per cent between 2003 and 2004.

Much of the explosion in costs could be accounted for by fees charged by recruitment firms.

Echoing the positive findings of PRWeek's annual Top 150 report, published earlier this year (22 April), client cash continued to flow into specialist healthcare PR firms: 82 per cent of agencies expected growth in billings in the year ahead, while agency turnover and net income figures rose by 20 per cent and 15 per cent respectively between 2003 and 2004.

More staff want to work part-time, while training spend is expected to increase, according to the 22 HCA member agencies that participated in the survey.

HCA benchmarking sub-committee member Fiona Hall said: 'We need to do a better job at attracting people at all levels into the healthcare discipline.'

For the first time the survey examined the type of services that agencies provide, finding that although media relations was the largest single area, on average it represented less than a quarter of total agency income (see chart for full breakdown). The split between UK accounts versus international work was 56 per cent against 44 per cent.

The survey revealed that agencies contested 11 new-business pitches per year on average, spending around a tenth of potential fees preparing for the pitches.

But in more than a quarter of unsuccessful pitches no agency was hired - a figure increasing year-on-year.

The agencies involved in the survey called on clients to produce clearer briefs, better communication throughout agency reviews and 'more realistic' timescales. It was also suggested that fewer agencies ('either two or three, depending on budget size') be invited to pitch.

The HCA survey also found an increase in clients requesting performance-related pricing in the past 12 months.

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