Intermediary services: The rise of the intermediary

Holding a pitch is daunting, while winning new business can be time-consuming. Can intermediaries ride to the rescue, asks Suzy Bashford.

Typically, research has shown that PR firms are less focused on new business than other types of marcoms agency. However, according to co-founder of new business agency Reardon Smith Whittaker (RSW), Adam Whittaker, this is going to change. With today's tricky economic climate, agencies will have to fight harder for work.

'On the other side of the fence, the current market conditions are frightening,' he says. 'The financial markets are in turmoil, consumer spending is down, inflation is up and advertising expenditure is suffering. PR budgets are under pressure. Where budgets remain static, clients are expecting more and where budgets are less, clients are still expecting more.'

So, in Whittaker's opinion, client reliance on intermediaries, which help them find agencies, will increase. This is why his company, RSW, has just launched a sister company called Agency Finder that specialises in agency search and selection.

PR pitches handled by intermediaries over the past year include Allianz Insurance, 02, Boots and Sky.

Tom Wells, managing director of procurement consultancy Gyroscope and author of the recently published Choosing and Using PR Agencies, agrees that intermediaries are good at getting value for money for both the client and the agency: 'Probably fewer than 10 per cent of agency hires involve an intermediary.

The longer clients receive poor value from agencies, the more damage it does to the standing and growth of the industry. I'd like to see a world in which 100 per cent of clients use a professional intermediary. As it is, remarkably few clients are good at buying PR services.'

There is sometimes a perception that only inexperienced junior clients benefit from intermediaries, and although Christian Cull, director of customer comms, BSkyB, believes 'no intermediary can provide universal truth', he does say they can 'provide access to a fuller picture'. He adds: 'If any clients think they know what is going on out there without help, they're giving themselves a limited view.'

With this in mind, on the following page PRWeek has listed some intermediaries to consider for agencies pitching for new business, or for clients looking for an agency.

CLIENT HUNTING - New business services
There are several firms that help PR agencies find new business. One of these is business intelligence firm Pearlfinders. It produces daily reports, based on news stories in the trade press and business sections in newspapers, identifying potential new business opportunities.

This could be a new PR director or forthcoming product launch that could signal the need for extra PR support. Pearlfinders then interviews senior brand decision-makers at these companies to find out their communications plans, relaying this information back to clients. It also provides advice on how to approach the decision-maker.

Sophia Ahrel-MacdonaldFormer new business and marketing director at Weber Shandwick Sophia Ahrel-Macdonald, now an independent business growth consultant, used Pearlfinders extensively in her old job. 'The information was really useful and it saved a lot of time. It was great to get client contact details with the information. I used to pick up the phone or drop the client an email,' she says.

Reardon Smith Whittaker, Agency Finder's sister company, runs a similar service. Its primary aim is to identify qualified leads for clients, set meetings up on their behalf and help them position themselves in the market. It currently works with around 15 PR clients and has helped them acquire 30 new clients over the past year.

Ahrel-Macdonald would recommend these services to any PR agency, but particularly smaller-sized outfits without a dedicated new business manager. Cost depends on the number of users and to which parts of the service PR agencies subscribe, but for single users fees start at £950 per year.

For companies that need even more support, Pearlfinders' sister company Rainmaker can provide an entire outsourced new business function, from identifying opportunities to acting on them. Monthly retainer fees start at approximately £5,000 per month.

INTERMEDIARIES - Five to consider

What it offers: Areas of expertise are in agency search and selection, commercial evaluation and relationship consultancy. AAR has 16 permanent staff, eight of whom are specialists in their discipline.

It pledges to offer counsel on the scope of the brief and advise on what would be a realistic expectation of the agency against the defined budget. It then works until an appointment is made. It is in regular contact with more than 250 PR agencies, but can spread its search wider.

Rough costs: Costed per project.
: Alex Young, head of public relations, 020 7612 1200,
Recent PR pitches/searches helped with: Ford of Europe, Westfield London, O2, Morrisons, Abbey (Santander F1 sponsorship), Boots, BSkyB. Christian Cull, director of customer communications at BSkyB, hired the AAR because he wanted his team to focus on the decision-making, rather than the logistics, of a pitch. 'The AAR made us think again about some agencies and introduced us to some we wouldn't have considered before,' explains Cull.

What it offers: An on and offline agency matchmaking service. Clients search for agencies using a checklist of around 500 attributes, after which they choose the agencies for their long-list.

Before selection of the long-list, the client has no knowledge of the names of the agencies they have selected. After this stage an AgencyFinder consultant reveals the names of the agencies and helps whittle the list down to three.

Rough costs: Agencies are charged a registration fee of £3,295 per year, of which £295 is payable upon registration and annually upon renewal thereafter, with the remaining £3,000 due the first time during the year that the agency makes it onto a final pitch-list.
: Samantha Reardon Smith, 020 8516 2255,
Recent PR pitches/searches helped with: No UK pitches yet, as only launched its UK outlet on 3 June, 2008.

The company estimates it has allocated $9bn of advertising, PR and communications budgets worldwide since its launch in 1997.

What it offers: Clients can search creativebrief's online database of agencies, after filling out a briefing form. Agency new business directors regularly update their entries. After receiving the results of their search, clients create a shortlist and contact the agencies directly.

They can also use creativebrief's consultancy service to construct the brief, come up with a shortlist and organise pitch meetings.

Rough costs: Agencies pay £2,500-£5,000 per year for inclusion in the database, depending on how much content they want to display. Client costs vary but a straightforward online search is likely to start at around £2,000 and an entire roster review could be five times this price.
Contact: Charlie Carpenter, director of agency management, 020 7478 8200,
Recent PR clients using the consultancy service: RBS, SAB Miller, BBC, Superbrands, Travelodge and Sportingbet.

What it offers: A free consultancy search and selection service of all its members accredited with the Consultancy Management Standard. Clients fill in an online briefing form that is then matched with relevant consultancies on a member database. The PRCA will try to have face-to-face briefings with the client where possible and can take the client from the initial long-list selection to pitch.

Rough costs: Free to clients to use, members pay a small win fee if they are successful.
Contact Wendy Richmond, new business manager, 020 7233 6026,

Recent PR pitches/searches helped with: Allianz Insurance, Oxfam, British Chicken Marketing. Allianz Insurance group comms manager Mark Bishop contacted the PRCA, and after seeing a shortlist of four agencies, ultimately hired agency Bright. 'The PRCA gave our search a much better structure,' he says.

Recommended Agency Register (RAR)
What it offers: A two-tier service. Firstly it provides independent information and insight on the agency market, gathered through research. This is accessible either through its website, market reports or on a bespoke basis. Secondly, it manages agency search and selection.

RAR clients score their experience of a particular agency, which is entered into a database. The results of this scoring system are only made available to paying clients. Currently, RAR's research only covers PR agencies located outside the M25 in England, but it is in the process of running some research in London and the South East.

Rough costs: Agencies do not pay to be on its books, and clients can access RAR's research for a relatively low cost. Costs are higher for the more extensive pitch management services and the winning agency pays a percentage of its first-year revenue from the account.
: Steve Antoniewicz, MD, steve, 0845 004 5626
Recent PR pitches/searches helped with: Currently it is helping find PR partners for clients in the FMCG, telecoms and retail sectors.

BUT IT'S NOT FOR EVERYONE, ARGUES ... Adele Pegden, managing director, Kazoo
'It's completely wrong for a PR agency to employ a third party to obtain new business. The only person who can sell your business effectively is you. Besides, it's what we are supposed to be good at.

Adele PegdenWe are in the business of cold calling and selling, and we should be able to do that, not just to journalists, but to clients too. It may not be easy, but sometimes getting on the phone and making that call is the best thing to do. What's the worst that can happen? The client doesn't want to speak to you.

Well, at least you haven't paid for someone else to tell you they don't want to talk to you. There's also something very cloak and dagger about taking on an outsourced company to represent you, at a time when I believe the PR industry needs to be upfront and honest.

If I were a client receiving such a call, I would definitely throw in a PR question too, to test the agency's knowledge. It's not going to look very impressive if the caller hasn't got a clue. I totally disagree with the view that smaller agencies can benefit from outsourcing. It's even more important for them than the big boys - who can rest on their reputations - to do it themselves.'

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