Firm contracts help avoid future disputes

The revelation this week that a third of clients lack a robust contract with their PR agencies is only moderately surprising. It is, however, significant.

Clients often bring in agencies to deal with a burning strategic or tactical issue. Once the agency has pitched a credible solution, and the team chemistry feels right, all parties are left with a nice, warm feeling. Adrenaline surges and the motivation to develop the relationship is at its height.

It is easy to see how a thorough employment contract gets overlooked in the early days of such a partnership and, as time moves on, the chance of one being agreed diminishes even further.

Unfortunately, it is further down the line that the need for such a contract inevitably kicks in. If the chemistry really has worked out, it may be that the client sees the benefit in hiring the account director who has run their account so well, to the agency's chagrin. On the other hand, if it has not worked out, the client will at last look seriously at the legal notice period.

There may be an even more complex situation where the agency has come up with a brilliant and effective creative vehicle, but the team chemistry has not been there. This probably means a skirmish over the copyright of the idea itself.

Many of these painful and time-consuming battles could be foreshortened, or even avoided, with clear relationship guidelines from the very beginning.

Of course many client/agency relationships involve no such disputes, but it still makes sense to put the partnership on a professional footing, particularly with so much money now being at stake. All of which explains the rise and rise of the dreaded procurement officer.

Beyond that, it is in the interest of the wider profession to ensure clarity from the outset, because client organisations stung by such disputes are hardly likely to view PR in a positive light. And they will be even less likely to persuade finance directors to increase their PR budget in the future.

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