June 1st, 2009 by Lloyd Gofton
Be warned this post contains a PR-based rant, not a new one, but a valid one, and one that has been raised by many others in the past. Well now it’s my turn, and I’m afraid it comes from recent experience.
So what is the problem? And how does it devalue PR? Well it’s very difficult to be more literal about devaluing PR than actually offering the service at a massively discounted price for the sole purpose of taking a client from another agency, or for the purpose of having the client on your roster in an attempt to win additional business.
This is far from a new issue, it’s been a problem for at least the last 11 years that I’ve been in PR and I suspect it goes back much further. I’ve seen it happen before, and I’ve known agencies that have done it, but let me make it clear; I think it is wrong on so many levels.
Why? Well, without wishing to repeat myself, IT DEVALUES PR. How can you say a service is worth X one day and the next it’s worth next to nothing? It also demotivates teams and makes them feel worthless. I’ve been on such a team in the past and don’t underestimate the effect this can have, there’s nothing worse than working hard to service a client that has zero respect for your agency/team and knows that when things pick up they’re off. It’s also disrespectful to our peers. Sure, in the bad old days we were all supposed to hate each other, while secretly trying to see if we might get paid more by moving to a rival agency, but haven’t we moved past that, at least to some degree? I really thought so.
So, when a client came to me recently and said; “Look, there’s no easy way of saying this, and it’s nothing to do with you guys or the campaign, but I’ve been made an offer I can’t refuse and I’m under pressure to take it. You know how it is in the current climate,” it was difficult to take.
Obviously I asked the client to tell me about it so that I could at least understand the situation and see if there was something that could be done. Then the bolt from the blue, the other agencies’ ridiculous deal smacks you in the face.
To cut a long story short, that’s it, end of discussion. Alright there may have been a few more discussions, I’m not making it that easy, but fundamentally that’s it.
So where does that leave us? Well, as far as I know the agency might actually be decent, I don’t know as I haven’t had any experience of them, and I’m sure they have their reasons, but I don’t think I would agree with them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not doing this to ‘out’ the agency or the client, I’m not going to mention either, and I’m not doing this because I’m bitter. I’m doing this because it’s so short sighted and damaging to us all.
Can this even be a viable new business tactic? I’m struggling to see the pay off. I think we’re all agreed that PR, as an industry, needs to wake up to a whole host of challenges, and the last thing we need is to be destroyed from the inside. Have we really been demoted to scrabbling around fighting each other for an ever decreasing pool of clients?
Isn’t it time we stepped up and took responsibility for our actions and stopped shooting ourselves in the foot when the going gets tough? Sure, you can say it’s just business, or it’s the client’s choice and I’d agree, at least in terms of it being the client’s choice. But how can it be ‘just business’, when my point is there’s no ‘business’ to be had if you’re going to quote crazy prices. What do we think will happen when the agency eventually wants to put the fee up, try justifying that.