Some time ago I lost a PR account pitch despite being well-suited in terms of sector experience, skills, creativity and results. The client chose to appoint an agency perceived to offer a wider range of in-house marketing services.
Having just seen some badly written new publicity material in the client's name, I hope that the agency's other services are being delivered with greater attention to detail and better overall quality.
Losing a pitch is always a disappointment, but it's part of life in PR. In fact, it's good for the profession – challenging practitioners to sharpen their responsiveness to clients' needs, and their awareness of new solutions – and it's good for clients because it stimulates competitiveness. Agencies can and should learn from pitch failures: those that don't improve deserve to fail.
I don't blame potential clients who opt for a 'full service' agency purporting to offer them the convenience of one cheque a month for an army of unseen workers busily building the company's image – freeing the head of marketing to do 'other things'. But the fact is, whether the there's a one-stop agency or a team of individual suppliers providing different aspects of the mix, the head of marketing should always be closely involved and ideally should not be doing other things.
I also have no complaint against the many full service agencies that cram a comprehensive range of skills under one roof, managing the diversity of talent with great professionalism and delivering high quality, cost effective and successful campaigns for their clients.
There is, of course, a danger that the additional investment in people, equipment and facilities may make a full service agency unnecessarily expensive for the benefits it might otherwise provide. Another danger is the big agency principal who wins an account by promising the earth – and then employs account handlers who can't match the promises.
Smaller agencies, naturally, are more hands-on and have lower overheads – but they are just as able to provide full services. Instead of relying on the skills of one or two in-house writers, designers or photographers (for example), they can draw on a wider range of specialists, applying the necessary management to ensure that the client still gets plenty of creativity and competitive prices.
Small or large, there is no excuse for an agency to issue a media release or other PR material that is poorly constructed and ungrammatical – it rapidly tarnishes the client's image. And that's the exact opposite of what an agency should be doing.
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 17 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.