LEADER: Agencies and clients need to build trust

PRWeek's new look at the health of relationships between clients and agencies - The Mischief Report - throws up some tasty food for thought.

Danny Rogers, Editor, <em>PRWeek</em>
Danny Rogers, Editor, PRWeek

To some extent the tension between these two sides of the PR industry is inevitable, even healthy.

There are the usual moans about agencies rolling out top consultants at pitches, who then disappear when the real work gets under way. Then there are the complaints from agencies about clients asking for strategic advice yet secretly yearning (unrealistically) for a personal profile in The Sunday Times.

But there are more worrying undercurrents here, concerning the levels of trust between client and consultant. These vary enormously, but when clients start expressing concerns about the basis of the way they are billed, the relationship has broken down.

Billing has always been a thorny issue for PR agencies. Should they charge clients for the time their consultants have spent on the account, or on the tangible coverage and results achieved?

There is the famous, possibly mythical, tale of the financial PR agency which, on completion of a successful corporate project, sent in an invoice that simply read: ‘For services rendered, please pay £1m.’

Interestingly, there seems to be less of an obsession these days with evaluation and measurement, although more than 30 per cent of clients did agree strongly that there could be improvements in proving ROI. The emphasis today seems to be on overall transparency and honesty between the two parties.

Finally, there is one contradictory message emerging. On the one hand, clients quite rightly expect higher levels of sector expertise from their consultants while, on the other, we know that clients still object to agencies working with rival companies in the same sector.

This puts agencies, which are increasingly striving to be specialists, between a rock and a hard place.

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