Middle East communications agencies are on a roll. Business is back ... but it’s a battlefield out there.
Hundreds of agencies are fighting to win new business and retain existing clients against fierce and continually increasing competition. PR agencies are springing up all over the place. On the surface it looks like clients are spoilt for choice and that they can pick agencies off a shelf in the Middle East Communications supermarket, and then try a new brand next time they go shopping. Look again.
In their drive to land new accounts, larger agencies send in their heavy hitters to pitch for business, aiming to wow decision-makers with their track-records into giving their company the contract. But once they hit that home run they tend to leave the stadium and second-stringers get off the bench and out into the field to serve the client. The game changes, usually not for the best.
Boutique agencies sometimes sell their services on the quality of their tiny but talented core team but then make the mistake of promising regional services without a regional presence. They try to cobble together a makeshift “network”. Even larger agencies try to play the regional card when in actuality the best they have is one guy embedded in someone else’s office with a phone and laptop. Those relationships usually don’t end well either.
Another scenario is that clients sometimes have unrealistic expectations — they want their stories front page above the fold in very specific publications, or want to be prime-time on the satellites. And they want everything for bargain basement prices. Alas, some agencies in their quest to collect as many clients as possible agree.
What clients really want, even if they sometimes don’t know it, are clear, consistent and sustained communications that deliver results. They want to feel that they have a tangible return on their investment.
Everybody’s looking at the bottom-line but a wise client will understand that you get what you pay for and if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. If a good agency gets the chance to work for a good client who understands communications and compensates according to a reasonable, planned programme of deliverables, they will begin to see those results.
For agencies, the goal is to become indispensable to their clients. This is a tall order but there are a few things that can get them closer to the goal. First off, the agency has to build a clear, in-depth understanding of the client. This requires sound research and serious groundwork.
Second is to have the right team in place — people with the right capabilities, the right chemistry and the right reach. If your client wants a regional programme you’d better have the resources across the region, not a bogus phantom network. If your client wants quality Arabic editorial you’d better have a quality Arabic editorial writer on staff rather than try to get away with a jumped up Google translation.
But the secret ingredient that separates the adequate from the outstanding in this business, that brings an agency to the threshold of indispensability, is the ability to deliver the unexpected. What clients really want is to be pleasantly surprised. They don’t just want their agencies to fulfil their expectations and tick off their deliverables.
They want to see something that they didn’t think of. It’s a little like a home run, touchdown or field goal in the first two minutes of a game. You don’t expect it but it’s deeply satisfying. It changes the dynamic and sets the tone and momentum for what comes after.
The agency that transcends the daily grind, steps back, takes the time to think and look for creative solutions that work within the limitations of its contract, that delivers the unexpected is the agency that keeps its clients and stays in the game.
The writer is Vice-President for network affairs and UAE managing director at Traccs PR.