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Does the PRCA offer value for money for consultancies?

Posted: 2012-09-13 in Opinion    |   Tagged: francis ingham, prca, prca events, prca membership


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).

PRCA Membership - is it worth it for consultancies?

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’.

1. Consultancy Management Standard (CMS) is the PR industry gold standard and by attaining it your agency will stand out from the crowd and will become a more efficient, better run business.


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.

2. Increase your new business opportunities.


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.

  1. Through our extensive training and qualifications programme, you can make the most of the talent you recruit.

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.

  1. Networking your way to success

HB: The industry networking opportunities are good. But they are also open to individual members.

  1. Receive the latest market intelligence and industry insight via our unique "Benchmarking Survey".

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.’

  1. The PRCA sectoral groups are a key source of information and access to sector expertise and peers.

HB: They’re good, but they are also open to individual members

  1. Access to discounted industry services and a free business helpline, as well as to lifestyle brands at preferential rates.

HB: Also offered to individual members.

  1. You can receive PR management consultancy advice from industry experts at a discounted rate.

HB: not a benefit of membership if you have to pay for it.

  1. By playing a part in our representative body, you will be recognised as an industry leader.

HB: Huh???

  1. You can advertise your vacancies here for free or advertise on PR Jobs at heavily discounted rates.

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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Does this post make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Or are you fuming? Either way, let us know by posting your comment below. This week, our favourite comment wins its author a £20 Amazon voucher.


Nick Dines

Thu 13th September, 2012

We set up our agency Belgrave two years ago and one of the first things we did was join the PRCA.

We have not regretted it, with the main reasons being:

  • The CMS is a very good way of ensuring that you are following practices which are beneficial to helping you run and grow a business. In the chase to win clients and do the work, it is easy to overlook the equally important process and structures you need to implement. Lord knows how many 'Start your own business' books I have read but none have been as relevant as this process.

  • Training being open to non-members is not something I have a problem with. Good luck to them if they can earn a whopping margin by charging them more. The training courses are far more relevant to consultancy life than any offered by competitors, which I feel are tailored more to the individual.

  • I have now reached the giddy heights of Co-Chair of the Property Sectoral Group. Why am I doing this? Networking and to learn and help facilitate the sharing of best practice. You get out what you put in and if you choose to be active, then the PRCA provides a lot to you.

The PRCA is easily the best representative body for the PR industry.

Heather Baker

Fri 14th September, 2012

Nick, thanks for your comment. In fact I remember meeting you at a PRCA lunch when you were still thinking of joining., which reinforces how valuable the networking opportunities provided by the PRCA are,

I agree that the CMS is valuable, but did you know you don't need to be a member to go through the CMS?

I also don't have a problem with training being available to non-members. In fact, I think that's the only way the PRCA could do it. All I'm saying is that it is not a membership benefit.

I am chair of the SME Group - it's a lot of work, but it has helped me forge strong relationships with other SME owners, which has been fantastic. However, if I was an individual member, I could have equal access to those groups (not as chair probably, but then that would save me a few hours a month!).

I agree, the PRCA is a great representative body for the industry. However, I don't feel I should pay £5k to be part of that, when others can get pretty much the same benefit for £120!

Thanks again for commenting.

Aeneas Tole

Fri 14th September, 2012

My comment is written from my official position in the communications team at the PRCA.

I am not going to provide a public rebuttal to every single one of Heather’s inaccuracies about the PRCA. We have offered to talk privately, and still extend the opportunity to do so.

However, I must say, as it has now been stated twice by Heather, that the CMS audit is not available to non-members. The assertion the CMS is open to non-members is just plain wrong.

Once again, we are happy to talk to Heather privately about any grievances, but will not be drawn into a public argument about factually misleading comments.

Kate Hartley

Fri 14th September, 2012

I'm just not sure how helpful this debate is, to be honest - although it's generating (dare I say it) quite a lot of PR. We need an industry association to support all agencies, but particularly small ones who wouldn't otherwise have a voice. I seriously doubt agencies would have team up to fight the NLA case, for example (and that arguably benefits small agencies with smaller pockets more than anyone).

The FAPRA debate is interesting. I run a small agency, and have had some really good business through FAPRA. You don't need to win much through it to make the membership fee worth paying! But I also make sure that I keep a relationship going with the PRCA team, so that they know what we offer clients, and can put us forward for the right kinds of leads. As a result, we haven't had a dud lead yet.

Presumably you have the choice to join as an individual or an agency, so you have the right to make that choice? Or am I missing something?

The PR industry gets enough grief, without us turning on ourselves.

Heather Baker

Fri 14th September, 2012

Dear Aeneas Many thanks for your comment. Firstly, I was under the impression that CMS was available to anyone. If you say this is not the case, then I accept that, and I have made a note to that end under point 1 in the original post. My apologies. To your point about discussing this issue privately, we have. You might not be aware but myself, Mike Maynard (Napier) and another agency head met with Francis Ingham to air our concerns on 23 January this year, and exchanged seven emails on the subject following that meeting. However, I did not feel that any of our concerns were sufficiently addressed. I would, however, be delighted to meet again should you wish to, and I stand by the fact that the PRCA makes a valuable contribution to the industry. After my current membership is up, however, I intend to support that contribution as an individual member at £120 a year – as soon as I am allowed to join. Thanks again for commenting. Heather

Aeneas Tole

Fri 14th September, 2012

Heather, thank you for your response and for the CMS correction. Aeneas

Heather Baker

Sat 15th September, 2012

You're welcome. Additionally, if you do believe any of my points to be inaccurate, please do provide details to the contrary. Heather

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