WEDNESDAY 27 NOV 2019 12:35 PM


For all its infamous eloquence, the PR profession is unable to say no to clients, according to a new survey that shows over-servicing has reached “epidemic” levels.

A nationwide study of 400 PR agency staff across all levels and roles found that 92% of PR agencies over-service with 17% over-servicing on every account, and 19% over-servicing on almost every one. Some 80% of PRs think it is a growing problem.

The reasons behind the “over-servicing epidemic” include agency staff not being confident enough to say no to clients, promising the earth in pitches to woo and wow potential clients, goalposts shifting on projects, scope creep and working overtime to meet high client expectations. Around 86% said they’ve worked unpaid overtime to make good the shortfall. 

The study by Ginger Research, in association with the PRCA, showed that the changing media landscape was also a factor in over-servicing, with 32% saying that the media is now harder to penetrate, and media relations takes longer than it used to. In addition, 37% said the media landscape was shifting so rapidly that PR agencies are struggling to keep up. 

The client dimension cannot be overlooked as 51% said clients were thinking more about the bottom line than ever before, so everyone has to work harder to prove return on investment, which impacts on servicing levels. Equally 49% said client expectations are at an all-time high.

Over-servicing coupled with undercharging means that in addition to requiring people to work long hours and unpaid overtime, agencies are effectively giving away what should be paid for time. The PRCA has long talked about ‘free Fridays’ where agencies undercharge so significantly that they are effectively working for nothing one day a week.

However, PRCA director general Francis Ingham said, “The situation has deteriorated over the past decade, and now not only is Friday free – half of Saturday is too. The always-on culture, the failure to charge an appropriate premium are undermining our otherwise excellent position and creating the culture of overwork and mental health, which we know is prevalent.”

Ginger Research managing director Harriet Scott said, “This research shines a light on the huge issue of over-servicing by PR agencies. This is not an occasional problem - the report shows that for many agencies it is an everyday occurrence that affects client and agency relationships, staff morale and staff work/life balance.

Ingham added, “We have always been vocal in saying that over-servicing is detrimental to the industry, and this research confirms that. Agencies and clients need to have open conversations about expectations and outcomes. We hope this survey sheds a light on how damaging over-servicing can be for the industry.”

Why over-servicing happens: top ten reasons from the research:

  1. Goalposts shift on projects 54%
  2. Scope creep 50%
  3. High client expectations 49%
  4. Unrealistic targets set to win new business 33%
  5. Media harder to penetrate and it takes longer than it did 32%
  6. Not being able to say no to clients 30%
  7. Planners not accurately predicting how long projects will take 23%
  8. When the world is promised at pitch stage 22%
  9. Time planning done by people not executing the work and there’s a disconnect 20%
  10. When a campaign idea isn’t great it takes longer to land it 16%

How can over-servicing be addressed:

  1. Being able to say no to clients 62%
  2. Senior management stepping in when account teams are overservicing, not ignoring the problem: 56%
  3. Better time management 44%
  4. Charging clients for overservicing 42%
  5. Better planning 42%
  6. Better understanding by those setting budgets of how long it takes to hit targets 39%
  7. Clearer SOWs 33%
  8. Negotiation training for all agency staff 30%