Are PR agencies wasting time?

The consultancy business is all about time – saving time, creating time and selling time. But are PR firms using time efficiently?

PRmoment and the good guys at Pragmatist recently hosted a seminar for PR firm CEOs and directors to discuss whether PR firms are using time efficiently. The discussion centred on a few different areas.

How PR firms should use technology to retain their margins

The use of timesheets
There are a few agencies I know of that don’t use timesheets – but not many. The issue with timesheets is that they focus both the agency and the client on hours of output, not value.

Richard Houghton reckoned that most timesheet analysis he had seen suggested that “PR firms we over servicing by about 20% – ‘Fridays are free’“.

Weber Shandwick London MD Rachel Friend believed this was no longer the case, arguing that Weber has a zero percent policy on over-servicing. “We don’t want our staff sitting at their desks until 8pm at night. We recognise that is not sustainable for us or a business, or for our employees.”

For me timesheets are a bit like Churchill’s democracy quote “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Timesheets are the worst way of understanding and retaining control of your agency employees’ time – it’s just that no one has come up with a better way.

Understanding the creative process takes time
As agencies are selling time and creativity, on the basis that good creativity takes time, there is a tension. Rachel Friend identified the following creative processes that Weber Shandwick London use:

  • Define the business brief not the comms brief
  • Vigorous insight analysis – understand the brand, understand the audience and understand what a real insight is
  • Know the rules – make sure you have a clear creative brief signed off by the client
  • Once you’ve done steps 1 to 3 you can then begin start to think about your creative magic
  • Time. Creativity takes time. Be prepared to push back on clients if you need to
  • Make sure you test the ideas with the account teams
  • Get the creative person/people to pitch the idea. Not the account team
  • Make sure the creative idea is featured in all the campaign deliverables

Using the right sort of technology to help agency employees work efficiently
As the breadth of work increases that PR firms are involved with, the hope is that they also receive the equivalent payment. But in the current competitive environment, this can be a challenge. At the same time, salaries are increasing meaning that PR firms’ margins are under pressure. The hope is that by using technology, PR firms should be able to increase their efficiency, thereby protecting their margins. There is a wealth of technology out there from social media influencing trackers, to evaluation tools and PR CRM software providers like Pragmatist.

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