02 November 2006

4.6% of time spent analysing time breakdowns….

We’ve been alerted to a surprisingly interesting feature in PR Week (not that you can see it without a subscription) by The New View From Object Towers from the very lovely Andrew B Smith of Object Marketing.

Robert Gray’s colourful article (see what we did there?) looks at how a ‘typical’ 50 person PR agency spends its time. The great and the good happily gave their view of the findings.

As usual some comments were a tad self-serving (Kate Pooley of Lewis blathering about a pilot scheme that uses podcasts to report results in order to save time) and some were a little more honest, such as Mark ‘Firefly’ Mellor and his classic “existing clients come first in theory, but this can be tested to the limits if a couple of interviews clash with a new business pitch worth £100,000.”

The big news, of course, was the shocking revelation that a projected 45% of time went on account management with a further 18% on reporting. Almost two-thirds of time on managing expectations and egos. Media relations rolled in at 12% followed by a bunch of other stuff leaving only 1% of time dedicated to features tracking (that’ll be the AE then).

Is it all really that shocking? To the hand-wringers that get all academic about it, probably. Yet it is the hand-wringers that caused all this in the first place. Back in the day, it was “come up with a good story, sell the idea into your journo mates and we’ll all get to the pub on time.”

Then the shiny suit brigade decides that PR should be a chartered profession, and we must plan, measure, evaluate, plan, measure, evaluate our way into a sterile accountancy environment.

Account management – the endless status calls, the booking of taxis for a senior executive that can’t hail his or her own cab, the whimsical ‘strategic’ chat that wonders off into the PR manager bemoaning the attitude of their employer – and reporting go hand-in-hand.

The weekly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annual and annual reports and reviews add up. The strategic bigwigs that dreamt this crap up don’t, of course, actually do the reporting so the AMs and AEs have to do it leaving precious little time to do ‘traditional’ PR.

Clients start to go crazy when reports are late, or if a cutting isn’t straight. Due at a fixed point, these things are above the parapet waiting to be shot at. An unscheduled piece of coverage that, as it turns out, never did appear, doesn’t get missed. So what do you focus on?

Reporting is a drug. They like the report. But they want a bigger hit. Can you do a coverage board…Can you create a montage of coverage in PowerPoint….Just the best quotes, and make sure it looks pretty….With each piece coming in on a separate click…. Yes do scan the coverage in because we still don’t get our cuttings electronically….

The professionalisation of PR means the product is now the presentation of results rather than the results themselves. How often has a client lamented that “we didn’t sell that coverage back into the organisation (his/her boss) sufficiently.”

And besides, how long does it take to ring a couple of journalists and create some sort of a story with them? That’s the easy bit. Trouble is, it's too easy. Competing on that basis means ever-declining margin. That’s why agencies these days win and lose according to how they manage clients and package the ever-declining results they get.

On a positive note, cracking piece of coverage for TimeAct Solutions. Bet its agency spends less than 45% of its time on account management….

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think that's great news. If we keep this up, soon it will not be necessary to achieve any coverage for clients at all. Which means we can still get to the pub on time...

Anonymous said...

Very insightful post there. And I agree with you - it's a shame that PR, when it had to grow up, went wayward. Endless reporting (because for clients, it is a drug) and answering to clients' every whim (because the declining value of many PR services apparently means that the agency should also pick up any odd task thrown at it) mean that PRs are often just admin monkeys... hell, it's taken the fun out of the job.

The way out of this may be to raise the game. Establish an offshoot of the profession that picks up the most creative storyteller superfreaks out there who can splash clients all over titles they could only dream of, with news about them that they didn't know existed, and charge a premium for it. Start small but think big results. Set a precedent of keeping reporting down to a minimum - clippings and summaries and that's it. Focus. Less is more.

Because good coverage is all a client should really care about from their PR agency. And the monkey duties should be left to the monkeys.

Anonymous said...

One thing I have learnt from being in-house is just how much politicking and justifying goes on within large corporations. If you are spending thousands of pounds a month you need to justify what it is being spent on. I would love to see more time being spent on the 'real work', but in the real world those agencies that take time to make their sponsor look good internally will do very well indeed.

....the world's leading.... said...

So really what we're saying here is that those agencies that are prepared to overwork their clients will succeed...because only they will find enough time to (a) generate the results to justify their retention and (b) produce the collateral to make their sponsor look good.

You're right though, ultimately it is naive to think that results are all that matters...it's getting the balance right between results and the promotion of those results internally. And making it all seem a result of the undervalued genius of the internal PR manager, of course...

Anonymous said...

I too was impressed with the article, because it did reflect pretty much how we used to work.

A few months ago we put in TimeAct and now spend less than half the time we did running the business, and a lot more time earning fees. Today around a third of our time is spent dealing directly with the Media - twice what it was before - and we now only spend around 20% on "Account Management."

It has helped us streamline operations so we're a lot quicker in spotting opportunities and getting better results. Within three months of putting it in we found our staff a lot less stressed, creativity up and coverage significantly improved.

Reporting now happens instantly - what took us a day before we put in TimeAct is now a two minute job.

We haven't told the clients yet, because we know they'll be after a fee reduction if we do!

Anonymous said...

Thank you TimeAct, you saved my life!

Don't you just hate (obvious) comments from people trying to sell something.

Peter Smith said...

I'm Peter Smith, MD of TimeAct, and had this blog mentioned to me by one of our PR agency customers who put up the comment about using our system, so yes I can assure you it's genuine.


We fully understand the issues being discussed, because we started to build the software when we were a PR agency, and kept getting requests for ever more complex reporting, particularly by our hi-tech clients. As we used it more and more, and came into contact with other agencies who could see the benefits, we saw the chance to take it to market, and sold the agency in 2005.

The reporting debate rages on. We know at least three agencies whose clients are now talking about being given daily reports, as well as several who get asked to produce different slices of the same information at least once a month.

A lot of this is coming from over the Atlantic, where Sarbanes Oxley has driven a huge demand for transparency. Detailed reporting requirements are not going to go away, the challenge for the industry is being able to balance them with getting ever-increasing results.

figgis said...

A mate of mine once explained this to a client rather well. he said:

"Fuck off and stop calling me every 5 minutes and demanding reports, because I can't speak to any fucking journalists!" (a direct quote hence the gratuitous use of swearing)

The client left him alone and he produced a great campaign. Then again that was a few years ago...

figgis said...

>So really what we're saying here is that those agencies that are prepared to overwork their clients will succeed...because only they will find enough time to (a) generate the results to justify their retention and (b) produce the collateral to make their sponsor look good.<

This boils down to one thing though TWL - do a decent job of PR'ing PR internally. Which when you think about it isn't a bad idea unless people on here don't believe PR works?

Anonymous said...

Oh, if only a piece of software could overcome the egos and agendas of people with their own self-interests.................don't think it's quite as simple as that. Nice plug though

....the world's leading.... said...

You're right Figgis, of course...but the job of PRing PR internally needs to fall on the shoulders of the in-house PR people. The agency should arm them with a reasonable amount of material to allow them to do that, but too often these days the balance seems wrong.

Peter Smith said...

Figgis and all make very good sense. We've certainly experienced the three times a day client phone call. We know one client that insists their PR agency attend their weekly marketing meeting - It's an hour and a half drive on a Monday morning, to sit in a two hour meeting and present a five minute report, then an hour and a half back again!

The key point the research picked up was that about 50% of agency time is spent in some form of administration. No doubt many readers here echo that.

An interesting thought came from Patrick Barrow when we discussed this. As he noted, the PRCA is currently reporting overservicing as averaging 28%, so if you can cut down on the time taken to do administration, reporting and so on, then you have a pretty good chance of reducing the overservicing cost to the agency, and seeing bottom line benefits.

Do that and you start to get the chance to put the fun back into the job!

figgis said...

>Figgis and all make very good sense.<

First time for everything...