21st October 2021

Why overservicing is bad for business

Rebecca Mulgrave
Head of Integrated Comms

I’ve been working in PR for the best part of a decade, and during that time overservicing has always been the ultimate taboo.

As a junior it meant we were spending too much time, or taking too long, on billable work.

As a manager it meant I needed to watch my team’s time more closely and keep a keen eye on budgets. 

But now, as a PR lead, it’s the difference between good business and bad.

It’s about understanding our value as service providers and working with our clients to fully deliver against their briefs as efficiently as possible.

And as in-house marketing, communications, or PR leads, no doubt you want this too?

Public Relations’ shifting attitude to overservicing

But in PR, something seems to have gone amiss. At the end of last year, PR Week unveiled an “overservicing epidemic” that everyone in the industry knew only too well. 

The fact that 90% of agencies overservice client accounts was far from surprising, as ‘scope creep’, ‘shifting goal posts’, and ‘working overtime to meet high expectations’ are all common occurrences. 

It’s more than this, even. Overservicing – especially in many big agencies – has become a cultural issue. 

The survey stated a third actually blame overservicing on ‘unrealistic targets’ set at the start of campaigns to impress potential clients. A quarter bemoan pitch teams ‘promising the earth’ to win new business. 

Add the fact that 30% of agency staff aren’t confident enough to say ‘no’, and it’s no wonder overservicing is rife. 

Whatever the reasons for it, overservicing doesn’t help anyone. It simply leads to agencies overpromising and underdelivering, and leaves clients frustrated and underwhelmed. Not a great combo. 

Five ways to avoid agency-side overservicing 

There are ways to ensure your agency doesn’t fall foul of overservicing, while still meeting – and exceeding – your (and your stakeholders/clients) expectations.

1. Insist on clear scopes from the beginning

Having your agency write out SOWs in detail is rule number one. Vague scopes are open to interpretation and that’s where you either see creep or agencies falling short of the mark. 

Be clear about the work you expect to be involved in the deliverables you require – get into the granular detail together. Then it’s clear (to you and your agency) what you’re getting for your money. 

2. Be flexible

I’m not saying everything must be set in stone. We all know priorities change and releases, events, or campaigns might not happen (cheers, COVID). 

So be ready to revise that crystal clear SOW and reallocate resources and look for an agency that is willing to afford you this kind of flex. Your agency should be an extension of your in-house team; you’re working towards the same goals and KPIs, so a little flexibility goes a long way. 

3. Work together to manage your budget

All our clients get a live budget tracker. They can see exactly how their budget tallies against agreed deliverables, and when that money is spent. 

Working with agencies in this way means if something changes and you need an extra press release or piece of content written, you can see how that affects your budget – where extra budget will be required or where another deliverable needs to be switched out. 

No awkward ‘we’ve spent all your money’ conversations (thinking: why didn’t you say anything?!), and no working for free. Just healthy, open and honest conversation on a regular basis. 

4. Be open to working with a network of agency partners

No one is an expert at everything – it’s why you hire agencies in the first place, right? 

Make sure you’re clear about what your agency can and can’t do in-house from the outset. For work that falls outside of their typical remit, most agencies will have a network of trusted agency partners that they can recommend and work alongside to achieve what you need. 

5. Consider the make-up of your agency team 

Great teams are made up of people with varying skillsets; ensuring the right people are working on the right projects. 

We may be a relatively small team here at Branch Road, but we’re a team of senior, experienced comms professionals – and this means we often deliver a better quality output first time round. 

That means less time involved in delivering what’s needed, and less chance of overservicing in comparison with agencies that rely heavily on junior staff to produce or execute deliverables. Sometimes less really is more. 

Forge a partnership with your agency and treat them like your team

The most successful client-agency relationships are always those that have forged true partnerships; both sides working together aligned to common goals. By bringing your agency into the fold and staying honest, you keep an open dialogue about the good, the bad, the budgets, and the service delivery.

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