Platform: Why expansion plans can stunt agency growth - Agencies who chase too hard after new business may find themselves struggling to hang on to existing clients, says Charlene Bergeron

The holy grail for most agencies is rapid growth - promoting the agency, pitching for new business, winning new clients and industry awards.

The holy grail for most agencies is rapid growth - promoting the

agency, pitching for new business, winning new clients and industry


The PR Week Awards entrants list grows yearly as companies look for more

opportunities to promote themselves.

For the principals, it’s part of the process of building a business that

perhaps one day can be sold for a lump sum, for others in the senior

team it is good CV building experience and may lead towards setting up

their own agency. Even for the juniors in a team, it is a very exciting

experience that hardly any other can live up to for the sheer adrenaline

rush. The thrill as you work into the night, arguing about what should

be recommended.

But what happens to the rest of the business during all this


Rapid growth puts huge demands on a team; training programmes, if they

exist, become stretched new staff take time to become familiar with the

principles and practice of the business and people become exhausted with

the pressure of increased workloads and long hours. For short bursts it

is very exciting and motivating for the whole company; everybody wants

to be on the winning team.

But when the excitement of chasing new business leaves the routine of

maintaining existing client portfolios behind, fire-fighting can become

a necessary evil. The ideal scenario of the seniors keeping an eye on

existing business and creating new opportunities disappears. If they

begin chasing executives to get things done a depressing downward spiral

can begin.

The battle becomes trying to hold onto business because the client is

feeling that they are not being serviced well enough, rather than being

impressed by a good job.

However, growth is vital to stay alive. Any business text will tell you

that. If you don’t go for new accounts, the accounts you have nurtured

for months or years will reach the end of their life and if you don’t

have new ones to replace them, the inevitable downsizing occurs. Or

overheads outstrip income and the strain of sleepless nights sets


It is not possible to predict accurately when you need to pitch for new

business, neither do the opportunities come along when you need


Planning for growth in a people business is just plain hard work. In

today’s market it is not possible to put an advertisement in the paper

and recruit a brilliant PR person straight away. They don’t grow on

trees and the industry is doing so well that everybody is looking and

many agencies are offering great opportunities even to mediocre


The public relations industry has suffered over the years as advertising

agencies and every other Tom, Dick and Harry had set up a PR division

thinking: ’Press release, media, yeah, I can do that’. The result is

that PR is not held in the high esteem it should be by many marketing


The quest for new business needs to be balanced with good long-term

staff training and succession planning to ensure that the principles and

practice of PR are maintained even as consultancies grow.

Charlene Bargeron is managing director of Greenlines Healthcare


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