Lorraine Langham: Payment-by-results is the way forward

The findings from last month’s PRCA Benchmarking Survey – that overservicing of accounts by agencies continues to rise – will strike a chord with anyone servicing the public sector.

With nearly 80 per cent of PR business in the public sector coming through retainers, it is hardly a surprise. But the question now is – is it time for a change?

Of course retainers have their merits – especially for smaller consultancies. Yet in reality they are a fixed-price contract in which clients’ demands are hard to manage, reliance builds up, and, after time, much-loved clients become an unprofitable drain.

This all threatens investment in growth and creates comfort zones from which it is hard to escape.

The project-fee concept offers the alternative, yet many are still reluctant to break free from the retainer. Perhaps this, too, is understandable.

With so few truly open competitive pitches available, especially in the public sector, competition is increasingly fierce.

Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that PR people find themselves working longer and harder on existing accounts, while fighting to secure diminishing margins on new business.

The PRCA’s second conclusion – that the biggest single threat to the PR industry is a shortage of good consultants – is perhaps a natural consequence.

Talented people have choices about what they do, when and for whom. Companies that thrive are those that offer staff a great place to work, with exciting clients, real challenges and an attractive work/life balance.

The solution to both issues flagged up by the PRCA is a payment-by-results approach, where we are rewarded for the value we add, rather than the length of time we work.

Thus, the days might not get longer, but simply more rewarding.

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