This week we registered an expression of interest in a tender for the PR provision for a B2B brief on behalf of a local government organisation. After receiving the full brief, we immediately replied and questioned the budget, which was so low that we assumed it was either a typo, or the term it was covering was incorrect. But no, it was no typo. It was the total budget for a two-and-a-half-year campaign. Oh, and it needed to include bought-in costs such as media monitoring and licences. I won’t put the figure here, but let’s just say that to complete the scope of work would have required our team to work for less than the UK’s minimum wage. It was, frankly, outrageously low. I don’t even think a solo freelancer would have broken even. Trying to be constructive, I emailed the contact and let them know that we wouldn’t be continuing in the process and we felt that the budget outlined was not realistic to cover the required work. I received an immediate reply telling me that the budget was based on ‘a previous contract which successfully delivered all the activity outlined in the brief’.
And therein lies the problem. In our industry, there’s always an agency so hungry for new business that they’re willing to undervalue themselves to a point where they are working at a loss. What does that say about the importance we place on PR and the role it plays in the marketing mix? Our colleagues in advertising and design value every minute of their time and charge accordingly, and yet when PR agencies price up their services for clients there seems to be a ‘finger in the air’ approach and a willingness to allow themselves to be bargained down. This approach of ‘win the business at all costs’ actually ends up costing everybody more in the long run. The client, who has secured themselves a bargain, often finds their account is way down the agency’s pecking order and they’ve been allocated the agency’s most junior staff. The quality of the work produced can then be low and the reputation of PR takes another hit. As an industry we must step away from wanting to be the cheapest and focus on being the best.