A story from the ad world today, but one that has parallels for PR. EasyJet has moved the goalposts in its current 8-month pitch process for its £50m ad budget. The two agencies apparently involved – O&M and Saatchi & Saatchi – are both said to be fuming – and both £100K down in terms of pitch costs. EasyJet are allegedly claiming that they said all along that they wouldn’t necessarily appoint one of these agencies – and that the agencies were aware of the business risk involved.
Clearly not being privy to the dispute at first hand, it would be unwise to comment further on this specifically. However, the trend for this kind of behaviour does seem to be on the rise. In PR, there are increasing stories of agencies being invited to pitch – often requiring large amounts of time, money and effort, as well as the sharing of creative ideas and information – only for the prospect to “do it themselves” or give it to the cheapest agency.
Unfortunately this kind of thing has happened since the dawn of time. There was a very large IT company in the 90s that would put its PR account up for review every year – agencies would duly pitch, only to find that the incumbent was reappointed – and certain ideas mysteriously being subsequently used by them.
Some have argued that the practice today is a reaction to heady dot com era when clients felt they were pitching to the agency to take on their business – if you hadn’t got at least £10K a month to spend on PR, you wouldn’t get past the initial phone call. However, the pendulum does seem to have swung a little far the other way. Nobody would dispute that pitching is one of the opportunity costs for any PR company doing business – but this is on the basis that there is a real opportunity to be persued – as opposed to clients attempting to get a load of ideas and information for free.
Again, the idea of asking prospects to pay a pitch fee has been around for a very long time – unsurprisingly, it is an idea that has not caught on – and probably never will.
In the end, there has to be a level of mutual trust between prospect and agency – if either side feels they are being taken for a ride, then nobody wins long term.