Clients are changing the way they choose consultancies but in doing so
they have highlighted practical skills, says Liz Fraser
After years of industry moaning about the inappropriate ways in which
prospective clients go about selecting a new PR consultancy, recent
evidence would seem to suggest that clients have finally got the
message. But have they gone too far?
We don’t want to be asked to prepare a full proposal presentation
against ten other agencies, so the trend towards client companies doing
an initial shortlisting to a maximum of four, based on credentials, must
be a good thing. We also want clients to understand that while senior
consultants will be involved in their business, much of the day-to-day
work is likely be more appropriately and cost-effectively handled by
more junior staff.
Two recent briefs we have received have spelt out that the team that
pitches for the business must be the team that will handle the business.
One even specified that no senior people who would not be ‘hands on’
were to be included in the presentation. We were also asked to give the
number of hours each team member was likely to work on the account.
Clients are also now specifying that methods of evaluation must be
included in the proposal, indicating a growing awareness that PR makes a
real and measurable contribution. All this is good news. If you start
out with the client knowing who is on the business, how much of their
time he or she can expect, how the reporting lines will work and how the
work is going to be evaluated, it leaves little room for
What is slightly more worrying is the practical test on writing ability
which we have recently been subjected to. The credentials part of the
pitch includes relevant case histories and gives us a chance to show
examples of written work. We are also used to being asked for client
references or having journalists called up to see if they really do know
us and regard us highly. But is the writing test taking things too far?
In a recent pitch we got down to a shortlist of two and were asked to
interview a senior director of the company and produce an article for
one of the specialist insurance journals. The editor would judge the two
articles and the PR account would be awarded to the consultancy which
wrote the best one. Thanks to the editor and the client’s preference for
our piece, we won.
So when, during another presentation, one of our account directors was
asked to leave the room to do a writing test, while the rest of the team
presented the PR strategy, we were not overly shocked. But should we be
It appears that many clients have had their fingers burned, taking on a
consultancy which performed brilliantly at the pitch but turned out to
be incapable of writing. Whether or not we believe the days of the press
release are numbered, the ability of PR people to take sometimes complex
information and turn it into relevant messages for defined target
audiences must still be one of the core skills required.
Hopefully all PR people will ensure that they, and their executive
staff, have not only had presentation skills training, but also have the
ability to understand and identify a story and produce good copy.
Otherwise they could find all the time and energy put into a new
business proposal and presentation is completely wasted, because some
poor member of the team failed the writing test. Could be a sad end to
an otherwise promising career in PR consultancy!
Liz Fraser is managing director of Key Communications