Below: The conversation with Matt Cartmell that resulted in a story in PR Week last Thursday. The issue goes much deeper than the story suggested, and because much of my argument centres on the issue of misrepresentation, I do not believe that the PRCA’s response that the membership numbers speak for themselves is a strong one. I’d love to hear feedback from others in the industry though, as I know there are agencies that believe they get a great deal, and others who feel differently. By @TopLineFounder (HB).
I do not believe that the PRCA offers value to consultancies, especially smaller ones (although I do believe that individual membership is very appealing). In addition, I believe that the PRCA misrepresents itself and the services it offers in a bid to get small consultancies to join. This is an industry that is constantly being accused of misrepresentation and I believe that the PRCA should safeguard our reputation rather than perpetuate the issue!
I do not deny that we need an industry body, and I absolutely believe that the value the PRCA creates for the industry is significant. But while consultancy membership offers some benefits, these benefits almost all come at a cost which is in addition to the consultancy membership fee. Furthermore, the majority of the benefits are available to individual members. In my opinion it is therefore better to become an individual member than to pay the consultancy fee.
To illustrate the point, as an agency billing between £500k and £750k next year, our membership fee in 2013 would be £4,196.00 or £322 per staff member (assuming 13 staff). In fact, based on the PRCA’s own benchmarking data for small agencies, published earlier this year, this figure would be £466 per staff member or £599 per billable staff member. As of last year, an individual is now offered the opportunity to join for £120.
According to the PRCA’s website there are 10 ‘great reasons why your consultancy should join the PRCA’.
HB: This is billed separately and is not a benefit of membership. CMS is also open to non-members.
Correction: According to the PRCA, this is actually not open to non-members (see comment by Aneas Tole below). I apologise, I was under the understanding that this was the case. However, to be fair, the CMS is based on ISO9001, which I believe is available at a similar cost.
HB: FAPRA (Find A PR Agency) is not a membership benefit. While members do indeed have access to it, it costs 5% of the contract once it has been awarded.
The PRCA (e.g. on its media releases announcing FAPRA wins) says: “… FAPRA is the PRCA’s impartial search and referral service for organisations looking to appoint public relations consultancies. More than 200 enquiries are made to the PRCA every year and it is estimated that £12 million of businesses (sic) is generated through the service.”
If this were the case, the PRCA would be generating £600k of income from FAPRA. In the most recent accounts filed, the PRCA generated £49,618 from its referral service, indicating that actual business generated that year was therefore just shy of £1 million. It is unacceptable that an organisation such as the PRCA should misrepresent its capabilities in lead generation by such a large amount.
My second issue with FAPRA is that the system for allocating leads is not impartial although the PRCA claims that it is automated by the system. There may be some ‘automated’ element to creating a long-list, but then the decision about who to pass leads on to is based on someone at the PRCA’s assessment of ‘cultural fit’. Is it possible that anyone at the PRCA could understand the culture of all 300 members enough to make this judgement call? It seems to depend instead on which agencies are on that person’s radar at that point, and my repeated requests from the PRCA for evidence of the distribution of leads have not resulted in a satisfactory answer.
Thirdly, 200 enquiries a year represents less than one enquiry per consultancy member. I cannot imagine many consultancies would pay for this as a stand-alone service.
HB: All training is available to non-members. The organisation offers a discount of 17-25% to members, but this applies to individual members as well as consultancies.
HB: The industry networking opportunities are good. But they are also open to individual members.
HB: The benchmarking survey is useful. However, individual members are told in a brochure that they are able to access ‘market intelligence, industry research, and guidance on a whole range of areas –from ethical PR practice to evaluating social media work.’
HB: They’re good, but they are also open to individual members
HB: Also offered to individual members.
HB: not a benefit of membership if you have to pay for it.
HB: The first part is a benefit.
As far as I am concerned the PRCA is clutching at straws to justify the value added to consultancies. While Francis claims that as an industry "We need to prove the value of what we do” (Marketing Week – 22 March – Because we’re worth it), the PRCA clearly does not feel the same need to be accountable to its consultancy members. Individual membership is simply more appealing, and better value.
Furthermore, implementing a grace period between when an agency exits the organisation and when its staff can apply for individual membership is, to me, a clear admission from the PRCA that consultancy membership does not represent good value. If the organisation felt confident that consultancies had as good a deal as individuals, it would leave its members to choose freely which service to sign up to.
I would love to hear what other consultancies, members and non-members think of the value they are getting from the PRCA, and would welcome opposing views. Please do get in touch.
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