Clients Charging Agencies to Pitch

Sarah Williams is a senior lecturer in public relations at Manchester Metropolitan University, and is currently undertaking a PhD in public relations professionalism at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.

We may have gone back into recession but I was shocked to read last week that BAA was charging PR agencies to pitch for its business. It is most certainly exploitation, as Francis Ingham noted in his statement to PR Week, but it is also arrogant behaviour.

They may well incur overheads as a result of the pitching process but so do agencies. In my time working in agencies it wasn’t unusual to start working on a pitch at 6.00pm in the evening after the days’ business was complete; staff gave up their personal time, agencies often stumped up for take-aways to sustain the team. There were also the practical costs incurred in putting a presentation together, getting visuals or mock ups done.

But aside from the financial investment agencies make in pitching to clients, there is an emotional one too. In giving up their free time, PR people make an investment in the business they are bidding for and to charge them for the ‘privilege’ of working for free seems remarkably impertinent.

But all is not lost, there are, in fact, organisations out there who will offer to pay for pitching work which is a refreshing and hopeful sign and one which should be promoted. David Kuczora of Clive Reeves PR in Birmingham told me of a recent pitch where the agency was not only offered recompense for their travelling expenses (the pitch was in Brussels) but also offered a fee for completing it. The agency declined the fee, but the gesture did not go unnoticed.

It seems that the discourse of corporate social responsibility, being a good and just corporate citizen, is lost on companies like BAA, who instead seek to justify unjustifiable actions. But rather than focus on the disappointing actions of one firm, the industry should continue to push for greater acknowledgement of the investment made by PR agencies in the pitch process.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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