Is there an over servicing epidemic in India's PR business?

We have all been there. One more ask from a client, rushing in on weekends to complete a project, overreaching way beyond the scope of work defined in the contract.

A survey In November 2019 by the UK based Ginger Comms in partnership with PRCA found that "17 percent of agencies are overservicing on every single account they have, and a fifth (19 percent) over service on almost every one."

While this data applies to UK based PR firms, the situation is similar in India as well.

Tarunjeet Rattan, managing partner, Nucleus PR says, "This is a massive issue that silently fuels discords in relationships and is one of the prime reasons for mismatched expectations. More often than not this is the death knell for an association. Ask any client."

Nikky Gupta, co-founder and director, Teamwork Communications Group agrees saying, "Over-servicing as a way of working often appeals to young organizations looking to establish themselves in a heavily competitive PR world. However, this culture creates far-reaching problems for the organization as well as the industry at large. It is financially unviable to keep over-servicing clients over the long-term."

Gupta adds that "It tends to have a negative impact on your relationship with clients over the long term because of the unrealistic expectations it creates. Once you have kicked off this culture of over-servicing, it is never easy to go back on it. What is more damaging is the fact that when a few organizations set a wrong precedent, it forces others to do the same to stay in the league. This harms the industry as a whole."

Ajit Pai, group head of Adfactors PR says he believes overservicing impacts not only work but also the relationship between client and the consultancy."

Pai opines, "It is a result of poor understanding of client's requirements, mismatch of expectations and inadequate engagement between both entities. The key is regular involvement of leadership from both parties to discuss work beyond tactics and transactions."

Impact on profitability, quality

PR professionals admit that over-servicing means giving time away for free and overburdening of the employees in a PR firm. Change in the goalposts of the services delivered, increasing the scope of work after the contract is in place and working overtime to deliver more work for the same money are just some of the ways over-servicing happens as per the research by Ginger Comms.

Tarunjeet Rattan points to, "The lack of an induction process that educates the new recruits in the servicing parameters or client deliverables of the account or the agency", as one of the primary reasons that land a lot of associations in trouble. It also overburdens your employees, as in a bid to keep clients happy you keep accepting work beyond your mandate."

Rattan also said that "Upskilling is also a huge cause of overservicing. When team members have no idea of the deliverables due, they also end up overserving or even under servicing based on their personal drive, enthusiasm and energy much to the annoyance of the agency. 

What causes over-servicing 

Ginger Comms research points to several drivers of over-servicing in the PR business. Among these are unrealistic targets, longer timelines to deliver a media story as compared to even 5 years before and a lack of negotiation skills to push back with the clients.

Rattan says very bluntly that, "As a country, the ‘haanji’, ‘ho jayega’ or ‘will do’ attitude that we have been taught to imbibe in our lives spills over to our professional lives blurring the boundaries between both. It does not work in our favour as we find it tough to draw the line for self-preservation. I can also say women are more prone to this than men, as they feel driven to prove a point. If you have been staying in India for the last 100 years or so, you will know why. But it is high time that this changes."

Can over-servicing be changed?

Rattan points to a possible solution saying one can, "Develop an SOP for respective budgets as an industry. If that is not possible, ensure that your agency has one and it spreads across verticals for a price point. And share it with team members."

Nikky Gupta agrees that "It is essential for professionals to understand that while being courteous and caring for clients is important in the business, drawing a line between being attentive and over-servicing is absolutely necessary. Building unrealistic expectations are counter-productive and must be avoided."

Ginger Comms research offers the following top solutions to addressing over-servicing:

  1. Being able to say no to clients. Negotiation training for all agency staff.
  2. Senior management stepping in when account teams are over servicing, not ignoring the problem.
  3. Charging clients for over servicing.
  4. Better understanding by those setting budgets of how long it takes to hit targets.
  5. Clearer scope of work. 

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