A murmur has begun to rise about the decline of the public relations industry in Turkey. Agencies are losing blood, teams are getting cut in half, and revenues are plummeting. There are question marks lingering in the Turkish economy, including the rise in currency exchange prices and the potential outcome of elections.
The fundamental problem isn’t even remotely close to these issues, though. To the contrary, the number of new, small agencies is driving at full throttle, and the number of clients in need of services is increasing exponentially. A company with only two employees—a doctor’s office, or even a dietician, for example—are now looking for support from PR agencies. There is still plenty of business to be had.
Then, why is there a general belief that PR is like a car that can’t stop, can’t find the brake, and is certain to crash?
Actually, the reason is simple. And only seven items are sufficient to understand the essence.
1. The old fee structure is a thing of the past…
Many clients can’t afford to spend large sums based on extravagant promises from big agencies that can’t deliver the results in the end. This is exacerbated by the fact that other, smaller practitioners will offer the same work for half the price. The sovereignty of big agencies has been shaken and frequently causes them to lose business, sending them into a downward spiral. Declining fees and falling profits cause them to push more work onto their younger and less experienced employees. Eventually, that takes its toll on workers. Talented communicators grow tired of working until midnight only to find their efforts unappreciated and underpaid. The work also begins to suffer and there’s less and less time to respond to current business, let alone potential new customers. The lack of interest from an agency leads new business prospects to seek out other boutique firms who are hungry for the work.
2. Established agencies focus too heavily on profitability…
More and more, big agencies are letting a single question drive their business: “How can we retain the most profits?” Instead of trying to deliver outstanding results, agency leaders are turning toward lower–wage workers and they are hiring job candidates with resumes and CV’s that have minimal qualifications. At the same time, workers are being over-burdened with too many responsibilities. Worse, many established agencies are failing to provide adequate training to their staff for fear that their employees will one day leave and take the clients with them. By failing to provide senior leadership, agencies end up delivering a worse product. This creates a constant loop that erodes the professionalism and quality of their services. Clients complain that, “Six people participated in our pitch meeting. It was very impressive. But, we never saw those people again. Instead, we were assigned a junior employee and the services were awful.” The culture and relationship between client and agency couldn’t have been worse.
3. New independent practitioners eventually run out of gas…
Experienced senior professionals are taking advantage of the changing business climate by separating from their established agency to set out on their own. Sometimes they are serving even a single client. And why not? Most of the time, they’re already providing the lion’s share of the work, but they are not getting the commensurate compensation. But, this scenario isn’t sustainable. While these professionals start out very eager, they can’t maintain the same level of service. Rather than establishing long-term relationships with clients, they try to start turning the fee wheel in no time and the client eventually moves on. They over-promise and under deliver. They can go as far as their tank of gas will take them with three cents and a thousand and one promises.
4. Boutique, but how boutique…?
Clients want to see more dynamic, faster, and more solution-focused teams in front of them. Many agencies respond by promising to deliver specialized, “boutique” services. But there’s a serious problem here. And that’s capacity. Unethical promises in a pitch meeting do not necessarily match with the agency’s ability to deliver. They can’t adapt from the traditional PR services they offer, and they continue to simply write ordinary press releases and hit, “send.” They simply haven’t learned the importance of creating good content, nor developed the resources to deliver it across multiple mediums in a holistic way.
5. Show your media lists
Media exposure was presented as a single objective of PR to influence brands. Exposure was reduced while expectations were increased. Some agencies tried to get the job by giving publication lists, in which they thought to take part, to brands. This caused firms to open PR agency pitches with the media list in which they wanted to take part. Also, communication professionals working without quality content and system caused serious problems. Brands started to change their approaches when they saw that creating stories with the support of close contacts did not work anymore.
6. A ticket to the Seychelles, next to the chauffeur…
Many prospective clients say, “Take me to the Seychelles on a jet plane,” but they only want to pay the cost of a bus ticket to Bulgaria. The agencies hungry for new business fail to explain clearly that the client requests aren’t physically possible. While this pitch may catch the attention of many more clients, the mismatched expectations inevitably mean clients look to switch agencies every two weeks.
While no one is immune to the economic pressures and the changing nature of the PR business, I’m wondering whether there will be people to stand up and say, “Stop.” This descent into lower quality services for shrinking fees will continue if we all let it. If influential voices can unite to stem the tide, we’ll all be better off. Do you think it would be too fanciful to expect anyone to act outside their own personal interests? Or, is everyone’s single goal how much money they can make? Will we continue to play this Pollyannaism?
[This post was written by Çınar Ergin of Aristo Communications, a Public Relations Global Network partner agency in Turkey. It was first published on the PRGN website.]