Comms Industry Leaders on Why PR Firms Lose Existing Business

Image Management surveyed the industry’s top leaders to find out the answer to the most crucial question for PR agencies — why they lose their existing business.

Several leaders believe high attrition rate, lack of adaptation, and process bureaucracy make them averse to PR firms. Others think their attention gets split among several accounts, leading to poor quality of service to all the clients.

Abhinav Kanchan, SVP, Corporate Communications - Sobha Developers

Abhinav Kanchan, Senior Vice President – Corporate Communications at Sobha Developers

PR firms lose their business because they over promise while pitching and under-deliver. Their structure is wrong. Each person handles several accounts, resulting in poor quality of work. They are young people with less experience who are overburdened. They need exposure, training and 2-3 accounts where they understand the industry. Their communication is not effective if they don’t understand the sector.

What are the forces working on it and how to add value? When it comes to adding value, they become reactive because they don’t understand. They have 10 different accounts and most of them are quite different in nature.

Akansha Pradhan, Head of Corporate Communications at Piramal Group

The issue is talent, PR firms have very high attrition rate. They lose their employees to corporate houses or other agencies. It’s the dedication that goes away. If the PR manager who was handling a certain account quits, and his replacement is not brought up to speed or the account is given to a junior person, it leads to several problems. We are very patient people but if the performance is consistently disappointing , the account is taken away after a point of time.

And Indian PR companies don’t have global strategy like international PR companies.  They don’t have that international edge. They can’t think beyond India or their respective metropolitan city. We at Piramal have a global PR strategy. I have a meeting with my top management and journalists every other week.

Anita Bora, Former Assistant Vice President, Corporate Communications, Wells Fargo India Solutions

PR agencies need to stay one step ahead of their clients and that is something that a lot of agencies don’t do. Complacency sets in, the formulas work but they forget that once in a while they just need to think out of the box and surprise us.

Arunav Sinha, Corporate Communications Director – India, China & South East Asia at Yahoo

Process bureaucracy. They often talk about three steps of doing a very simple thing. They often talk about a team structure which makes it very difficult for clients to reach.

Personally, I am completely averse having one account manager for them. If one signs up with a PR agency, they are essentially client of the entire agency, but most of the time the client is confined to a certain branch, which is a big problem because we hire the agencies for network. Agencies stand to win and deliver much better result by putting set of account managers from across the country that should stay in touch with the corporate communications team.

Deepa Thomas, Head – Corporate Communications & Pop Culture, eBay India

Deepa Thomas, Head - Corporate Communications & Pop Culture, eBay India

The most common reason would be team attrition because often it brings in new people. Clients don’t want to induce new people all the time. The agency should plan the attrition so that the client does not have to reinvent anything. The new people should be brought up to speed for the running campaigns etc.  The team should share all their knowledge with the new people and everyone should have a backup.

The other is demonstrated disinterest or disengagement or low prioritization of work. My first 7 years were in PR agency, and my clients really liked that I was proactive with work.  It’s important to go beyond the traditional ways and doing what is listed. One needs to be thoughtful about their client. If the agency i have hired wants to recommend something about branding beyond their designated work, I welcome it because it keeps them motivated. Their participation makes them feel part of the company.

Jaideep Shergill, CEO, MSLGROUP India

It is a combination of factors. But the essential reason is that they are not well connected with the client in one way or the other.

Nandita Lakshamanan, Founder and CEO of The PRactice

PR agencies lose business because they lack accountability, wait for the client to lead the dance and their process bureaucracy.

Sharvani Dang, Group Vice President-Corporate Communications, Avantha Group

I have grown in this organization in terms of my perspective, and my work at higher levels and a PR firm has to keep up with it.

A PR firm has to understand me and have the ability to grow to fulfil the requirements for my company.

Vineet Arya, Head – Marketing and Communications, Tata Power Solar

Most of the times, PR agencies lose their business because they lose the focus midway or they are too complacent, they take the account for granted. They need to be flexible enough to adapt themselves to the changing industry scenarios.

For example, the industry I’m part of is very dynamic because several external factors influence our industry. If I need to survive in this industry, I need to adapt to it. Similarly, the partners who work with us also have to change with my industry and me. If they don’t, there is a mismatch and whenever there is a mismatch, the relationship ends.

Varghese Thomas, Director – Corporate Communications – India & Greater China at BlackBerry

PR agencies must become the market intelligence arm of their clients to sustain important accounts. Any PR agency should add value to the client in terms of going beyond the monthly briefs and performance requirements.

Yusuf Hatia, Managing Director, Fleishman Hillard, India

Yusuf Hatia, Managing Director, Fleishman Hillard, India

PR agencies often lose business because they are in a haste to win the account. While pitching, they sign up for a lot but fact remains that the budget is already set. They promise more than they can deliver. The reality of serving those things is rather difficult.

We try to look at the budget, break it up and measure it against the deliverable scope of work. It is important to plan this in advance so that the client will not be disappointed later.

Yuvraj Mehta, Vice President & Group Head – Corporate Communications at Reliance Infrastructure Limited

The reason is they don’t try to understand the business.  They don’t understand the pain which the corporate communication team goes through. For a PR firm, it’s one of their many businesses but for me, it is my only business. They don’t focus, and I often hear them complaining about good manpower to service them.


One thought on “Comms Industry Leaders on Why PR Firms Lose Existing Business

  1. Very valid observations by the seasoned professionals in the article. As a PR professional, I think some other reasons why PR agencies lose their existing clients:

    1. The client has run out of financial resources to run the campaign. It happens mostly with start ups (less than 5 years old) and sometimes with established companies during economic slowdown or downturn. It could also be that PR budgets are slashed if the revenues are low in a downturn.

    2. The agency allots an account to an account manager and his team member (an AE/Sr AE/AS). The AE/SAE/AS/SAS is already working 2-3 other accounts. The new account is an additional burden on him/her. As a result, delivery on either of the 3-4 accounts has to suffer as it is very rare that the deliverables on all the accounts can be met satisfactorily with the limited execution support. All this will lead to a situation where the agency loses one of the clients before the expiry of the contract. Very little is done to scrutinize the reasons behind this and take corrective action.

    3. Finally, there are certain clients which pay very low retainers (sometimes less than 50K p.m) and expect an integrated multi-city PR campaign. While the agency might have overpromised to bag the account, the clients also need to understand what is pragmatic given the fees paid. One can’t expect a Rolex watch at a Titan’s price. Such clients complain regularly and the servicing team and the seniors in the agency get vexed over this persistent problem. Agencies try their best to set the expectations right but some clients just don’t get it. All this results in a situation where the agency agrees to a pre-mature termination of the contract initiated by the client.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *