There was many a furrowed brow as the hoary old issues of charge-out rates and over-servicing of clients were raked over once again.
Despite a PR consultancy sector whose revenues are seeing double-digit growth, there is still a gloomy consensus that agencies are under-selling their expertise.
We heard much talk of how media relations can be commoditised, even outsourced, which to this writer seems to rather miss the point. One can understand how agencies wish to make their core activity more cost-efficient. But by measuring an input, rather than an output (or indeed an outcome), the situation can only be made worse.
Clients should be dissuaded from viewing media relations as a commodity. Sure, a basic product launch to the glossy consumer mags can come close to an off-the-shelf solution, but the quality and therefore outcome of most media relations varies enormously.
The success of a PR campaign depends on the wider strategy behind embarking on it: the creative ideas behind it and the calibre of the staff executing it. All of these factors can be critical in whether a multi-billion pound merger deal goes through, or whether a piece of potentially damaging legislation is passed.
For these reasons much City PR and public affairs work is now carried out on a payment by results (PBR) basis. And why not? If clients have to think hard about why they are employing a good agency, they are more willing to pay the right price for it.
There are already a handful of generalist PR agencies operating purely on a PBR basis and many others considering it. And it may be significant that whenever PBR was suggested by speakers, there was not the outcry we have seen in previous conferences.