Clients make agencies 'jump through hoops' finds PRCA survey

PRCA Leaders Panel Consultancies must 'jump through more and more hoops' as clients cut costs.

Pitch battle: agencies ask for more respect from clients
Pitch battle: agencies ask for more respect from clients

In-house comms chiefs stand accused of drawing out the pitch process and making PR agencies 'jump through more and more hoops' in order to win new business.

Almost half of the PR agency bosses polled by the PRCA last week said they had seen the length of pitch lists increase in the past year as clients try to drive costs down.

On average, three to six agencies are asked to pitch for a brief - but 80 per cent of agencies feel that three is the optimum number to have on any pitch list.

Also, about one quarter of agency bosses polled revealed that they had been asked to participate in money-saving 'reverse auctions'.

The average amount of time a PR agency will invest in a pitch 'varies dramatically', said the PRCA, but starts at about 20 hours.

Among the complaints that the PRCA reports hearing from the agency world is that prospective clients are failing to provide a specified budget during the pitch stages.

On the basis of its findings, the PRCA is proposing to further develop its guidelines for pitching, while holding workshops aimed at both clients and agencies on how to handle pitches better.

PRCA client services manager David Ding said: 'There is a general frustration. Clients are making agencies jump through more and more hoops. We want to make the client side aware of the amount of work that goes into even a first-level response. What clients need to realise is the better the brief, the better and quicker the response they're going to get.'

RBS Insurance head of campaigns Matt Owen responded: 'The thing the agencies need to remember is that everyone needs to get best value for money at the moment. Appointing external contractors of any kind is a big deal, so people want to get things right.'

Owen said that he would not want to see more than three or four agencies in a pitch process, adding that in-house staff should 'exploit their networks to find out as much as possible before drawing up a pitch list'.

The PRCA has pointed out that there were complaints from clients as well. Some were disappointed that the account team often differed significantly from the team that originally pitched.

Fifty-one senior agency members of the PRCA Leaders Panel responded to the survey.

HOW I SEE IT

- Oliver Aust, Head of comms and public affairs, easyJet

We went out to pitch last year and were able to drive down costs while getting more media exposure and a better service. I expect this trend to continue because a lot of agencies are willing to work extra hard to win high-profile clients.

- Mat Sears, Head of external comms, Orange UK

Long pitch lists and drawn out processes don't help anyone, especially agencies. In my experience more importance should be placed on pre-shortlist 'relationship and chemistry' meetings which, if handled well, require less effort, but reveal more about the agency's capabilities than multiple pitches ever would.

29% of agency bosses cite five agencies on typical pitch list

49% say pitch lists have increased in length in the past year

80% say three would be the optimum number on a pitch list

25% have been asked to participate in a reverse auction

Source: PRCA

- Has the number of agencies on pitch lists changed since last year?

Decreased: 4%

Increased: 49%

Hasn't changed: 47%

- What is the optimum number of agencies clients should include on a pitch list?

4: 10%

5: 4%

2: 4%

6: 2%

3: 80%

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