Over-servicing – five ways to turn losses into profit

By Victoria Tomlinson


Earlier this month I delivered two courses for Dubai PR agencies through PRCA Mena – the first was on over-servicing, particularly around how to turn a loss into profit (the second was on business development techniques).  While both were tailored to the issues of PR companies, the points are relevant to any service business – lawyers, accountants, architects, bankers, marketing agencies and more.

What was interesting about this session was how everyone looked at the issue of over-servicing as being about confrontation. I hope the biggest achievement from the training was to turn around mindsets.

Managing over-servicing is about delivering the best to clients – of course, within budget – and is about finding the win:win. If one side is losing out in the deal, actually no-one is a winner.

So where are the real dangers in over-servicing and how do you tackle them?

What is over-servicing?

First, what is over-servicing?

Before the course, I had posted on LinkedIn asking for tips and stories to share on over-servicing.  Thanks to Mike Moran ceo of best&final who came back with his definition of over-servicing, “Mission creep. A failure to control the ‘Yes Gene’ that seems to be built into all service industry staff. It all amounts to the same thing. An erosion of your profits, which comes about because you are doing more for your client than they are paying you for.”

Essentially, over-servicing is delivering more than agreed for the initial fee, without agreeing an increase. I defined it as

  • Giving away your profits
  • Creating unrealistic client expectations
  • And a stressed team

How does over-servicing happen?

The typical ways for over-servicing to happen are: poor initial brief – so no-one is very clear about what was actually agreed; poor project management – lack of managing (or knowing) how many hours have been spent and managing time against the brief; or the client requesting additional bits of work and no-one saying ‘no’ or agreeing additional fees.

The first two are basic business and project management issues, so I am not covering in detail here.  I am focusing on the trickiest bit – how do you either say no to extra work or ask for more fees to cover extra work that you have done or will need to do?

Saying no – how hard is it?

There are particular cultural challenges to consider in the Middle East, especially ensuring there is no loss of face and that you are not asking a client to say ‘no’.  But to be honest, you want to avoid these in any culture.

Tip #1    Be clear about the issues and successes

Don’t go into a meeting thinking about it as tackling a problem and the client will be seriously unhappy. Start out with a mindset that you have done a great job (jot down your key successes – we often need to remind ourselves of these, let alone the client) and think through how the contract should be run in the future to deliver more great work.  What should you focus on?  What do you need to drop? You need to get your mind into a positive frame.

Tip #2    What’s in it for them?

Too often people go into sales and client management meetings without stopping to think about the client.  What are their pressures, what do they need to be successful in their job, what will be worrying them about your work/agency?  Taking time to think about ‘them’ will help you anticipate how to focus the future.

Tip #3    Prepare, prepare, prepare

Preparation will take a great deal of angst out of the meeting.  You need to look honestly at what has been delivered and if you feel, actually, we haven’t really delivered value (it happens in the best of agencies for the best of reasons) then be prepared to pre-empt this and write some or all of it off.  You need to clear this internally so you can go into the meeting with a strong negotiating position.

Think through options as to what you can offer for the next stage – refocusing the work, amortising what has been billed across the year, dropping activities that achieve little value and so on.

Tip #4    Ask questions


I was interested that in the training, everyone tackled the various scenarios and role plays in the same way.  They all started talking – how good they were, we’ve done this, this is what we propose. No-one started by asking ‘how are you and how are things going?  They didn’t try and tease out how the client was feeling, how they were seeing the problems or the future. So they didn’t know if their chat was hitting home or not.

Questions are one of the most valuable commodities in any client relationship.  Only by listening can you adapt and present your solutions to fit around their perspective and issues.  If you have prepared and have options up your sleeve, you can flex all of this in the meeting.

Tip #5    Smile and be confident

If you go into a meeting thinking of it as a confrontation, you will create the wrong atmosphere from the start, feel sick and lack confidence and nothing will feel like a solution.


However, if you walk in with a big smile and own the meeting – how are you, how’s it going, we’ve loved working with you and so pleased at what’s been achieved, but we need to rethink how we deliver what you really value and need for the next half of this contract’ then you set an upbeat tone to the meeting.  Ask about their priorities, what really matters, drop in your successes, check what is adding least value and then sum it all up.  “So, what we need to do for you in the next six months is get you into these three key media and do an absolutely fantastic launch event, with xyz attending.  We’ll drop this and we are going to put more effort into that.”

No confrontation in here. You are focusing on client service – delivering what really matters to the client.  And if they really want all the extras, then you have to package those for additional fees.  But in a helpful, understanding way.

Of all these tips, what everyone on the course found most helpful was to put themselves in the head of their client, ask questions and to prepare ahead and clear the negotiation internally.  All of them said it felt far more manageable and achievable to get good results.  They promised to let me know when they have successes with this approach!

Training terms and conditions

Cancellation Terms

PRCA does not offer any refunds on training courses booked, only a transfer (of the same cost value) is eligible. Should a PRCA Member book and pay Non Member rate, a credit note for the cost difference will be issued. We cannot issue a refund for the cost difference.

Transfer Policy

If you are unable to attend the training session you are booked onto, you are welcome to transfer to the next convenient date or an alternative course of the same cost. One transfer to another course is permitted per place booked and transfer requests must be made before 3 working days of the course date.

Transfer requests made less than 3 working days of the course date, will carry a charge. The transfer fee is 250 AED per person, per course.

All transfer requests should be made in writing to training@prca.mena.global during office hours (09:00 – 18:00)

Non Attendance

A ‘no show fee’ of 250 AED will be charged to delegates who fail to attend their training sessions.

The ‘no show fee’ applies to all PRCA members and non-members.

Bespoke Training Cancellation Policy

Due to the care and extra work that trainers devote to tailoring courses there is a fee incurred for any last minute cancellations or date changes.

PRCA must be notified within 14 working days before the session is due to commence.

For any cancellation or date change request made less than 14 working days of the bespoke date, a charge of 2000  AED (per bespoke course) will be incurred.

All transfer requests should be made in writing to training@prca.mena.global during office hours (09:00 – 18:00)

In the meantime, if you have any queries please email training@prca.mena.global

Payment Terms and Conditions

Payment must be made and received by PRCA before delegates attend a training course. As a result of invoice 30 day payment terms, we are unable to raise an invoice for a course taking place less than 30 days of the booking.

Delegates will not be admitted to the training room unless payment has been received in full by PRCA before the date of the training.

PRCA MENA launches Matchmaker Service to help match clients with agencies

PRCA MENA launches Matchmaker Service to help match clients with agencies

PRCA MENA is launching a service to help clients find PR and communications support across the region, and to guide them through the pitch process.

The Matchmaker service is available for use by client organisations, procurement professionals, business owners and in-house teams whether they are reviewing their agency arrangements, tendering contracts or are seeking an agency for a project.

The Matchmaker service is confidential and follows industry best practice, dovetailing nicely with any internal procurement processes by adopting formal expressions of interest and pre-qualification criteria.

Matchmaker is  free to clients because PRCA MENA levies a 5% commission on the winning consultancy’s first year fee or project fee. Matchmaker is a successful service in the UK which attract briefs of all shapes and sizes and from all sectors.

Each selection starts with your requirement brief to us highlighting factors such as sector experience, skillset, conflicting brands, location, size, your budget and timing.

Based on each brief, an initial search of relevant consultancies is completed via a database search to create a long list of consultancies. Using the PRCA’s knowledge of PR and communications agencies, a shortlist of relevant agencies is drawn up which is then presented back to the client company. The PRCA will oversee any potential conflict issues.

The client may enable agencies to send credentials and case studies to them directly, or alternatively the PRCA may act as a go-between.

Matchmaker may also offer the opportunity to appoint PR and communications agencies in other parts of the world, if clients are seeking agencies or affiliates in other regions. Those agencies that have achieved CMS will be prioritised to receive these referrals through our matchmaking service.

Francis Ingham MPRCA, Director General, PRCA, said: “I’m very pleased to be launching the Matchmaker service in MENA, a service which we have developed to enable in-house teams and consultancies to forge strong and creative partnerships.”

PRCA MENA Launches Digital PR and Communications Report 2017

The Public Relations and Communications Association in the Middle East and North Africa (PRCA MENA) has revealed the findings of its first Digital PR and Communications Report, with insights across the following key areas:

  • In-house budgeting for paid media continues to rise
  • Web design and build is a huge growth area for PR and communications agencies as service is increasingly combined with PR
  • Huge expectation that digital budgets will grow over the next 12 months
  • In-house and agency staff alike do not feel they get enough training around digital

The first PRCA MENA Digital PR and Communications Report, produced in partnership with YouGov, provides a benchmark of how the PR industry is performing with digital communications.

To receive a copy of the report, contact enquiries@prca.mena.global

Attitudes and responsibilities

When asked why their brands are on social media, in-house leaders surveyed are now less likely than ever to point to negative reasons such as to address a lack of control to online reputation (17%) and to be able to respond to a crisis quickly (19%) while the biggest reasons are to increase brand awareness (52%), and to drive sales (48%).

Now more than ever, in-house teams surveyed see themselves as the owners of digital/social media strategy and execution, with agencies providing supporting roles. This raises some important questions about the role of the PR agency in digital, going forward.

In-house budgets

The mean percentage of marketing budgets spend is 51% on paid social media, closely followed by 43% on web design and build. Just under half (44%) expect their digital budget to grow in the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, investment in Image based content is only 20% in comparison to 51% of budget spent on image based content in the UK.

Agencies and how they’re being used

In the past year in particular, we have seen huge growth in in-house PR departments expecting PR agencies to be able to deliver many digital service areas. The highest expectation is agencies delivering creative ideas (54%) and online media (48%)

On the PR agency side, 49% are now offering social media marketing, 41% digital media marketing, and 36% influencer outreach.


Over the last year, in-house teams surveyed have seen the biggest growth in use of Facebook (60%) and Youtube (58%).

The biggest in-house platform losers are Pinterest and Linkedin, with a drop of 7% and 6% in usage respectively over the past year.

For agencies, the leading campaign platforms over the past year are Facebook (78%); Instagram (41%) and Youtube (45%), while it is interesting to note that Twitter use is somewhat lower at 28% compared to 95% in the UK.


When asked to rate their top three, the majority of in-house comms people gain most of their social media education and insight from external training courses (26%). When asked which three things they need more education in, the biggest percentage of in-house comms people need more education/insight around digital media coverage (49%) and digital strategy (43%)


YouGov partnered with PRCA to survey over 2,000 agency and in-house PR professionals across business services, finance and banking, technology and telecoms, charities and NGOs, Government and other sectors. In-house respondents include Directors of Marketing/Communications, Heads of Marketing/Communications, and Heads of Press/PR. Agency respondents include CEOs, MDs, Partners, and Directors.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size in 2017 was 2027 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken during April 2017. The surveys were carried out online.

PRCA MENA launches face-to-face training in Dubai

PRCA MENA has partnered with the Media Network, the news, networking and data centre for the Middle East media community, to provide half day face-to-face training courses in Dubai.

The face-to-face training is in addition to over 40 online training webinars that PRCA MENA currently offers.

All trainers have completed a rigorous assessment process and are all accredited and certified PRCA trainers.

The PRCA will be launching an initial four courses:

Developing a Social Media Strategy , with Samantha Dancy MPRCA. This course will equip you with the tools and tips to develop a communications strategy that integrates social media and traditional media effectively.

Business Development Techniques with Victoria Tomlinson MPRCA, CEO Northern Lights. This training course will teach delegates how to identify prospects, convert these to business opportunities and close the deal.

Over-servicing Clients – How to Turn Around and Make Profit with Victoria Tomlinson MPRCA, CEO Northern Lights. This half day training session will look at why over-servicing happens, setting expectations, ownership, and agreeing deliverables.

Beyond the Press Release – Writing Skills for PR in a Digital Age with Samantha Dancy MPRCA. Delegates will learn how to develop key messages and news into written content that works across various media platforms.

All training courses are certified and delegates will receive a certificate on completion.

PRCA MENA members can attend the training courses at an introductory discounted rate of 650 AED, non members 1000 AED.

PRCA MENA is preparing to launch a series of face-to-face training sessions in Arabic, which will be available later this year.

Francis Ingham MPRCA, Director General, PRCA, said: “I am very pleased to partner with The Media Network, to broaden further the range of training options available to PR and communications practitioners in Dubai. It is a key priority of the PRCA’s to improve standards within the industry, and this is an important step forward.”

Michelle Kuehn, Managing Partner, The Media Network adds, “We’re so thrilled to launch face-to-face training sessions with PRCA. Our ethos has always been to create a nurturing media community in the region, and through this step, we aim to provide access to quality training for PR professionals in Dubai.”




PRCA MENA is pleased to announce that it is partnering with Action UAE for the launch of its own training academy.

The CPD-accredited programme includes both face-to-face training in the region as well as online training webinars and will be overseen from PRCA MENA’s office in Dubai. PR and communications professionals will be allocated a training budget as well as a bespoke guide and staff will be able to learn new skills, develop best practice, and stay abreast of the latest developments in areas they already operate in.

The academy follows the recent success of the Qcademy by Q Communications, and the training academy at Instincif Partners.

Euan Megson MPRCA, Managing Director, Action UAE said: “We’ve invested in PRCA’s diverse and multi-faceted training programme to ensure our people stay ahead of the curve across the full spectrum of skills required in today’s constantly-evolving communications arena. Whether it’s top-up sessions for our longer-serving resources, or core education for more recent recruits, PRCA’s webinar and face-to-face options provide regular avenues for targeted training. There’s no regional equivalent to the richness and variety PRCA offers across its training modules. With Action UAE having doubled in size over the last 18 months, we’re looking forward to our people optimising these modules across all levels of our business. Learning never stops – for any of us.”

Leanne Foy MPRCA, General Manager, PRCA MENA, said: “I am thrilled that Action UAE have put together a comprehensive training plan and are investing in their staff with both internal and external training, thus developing talented PR and Communications professionals in the region.”

Social Media Photography – Shooting for Brands

Shooting photography for social media can seem a little daunting because your posts are basically going up against those of influencers – who have tens of thousands of followers – and seem to get an unachievable amount of likes on each post. These influencers also have a lot more time on their hands than the typical PR, who might have numerous accounts to manage at the same time. Posting beautiful pictures on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc for multiple brands can seem like the impossible task but as we all know, a well curated, on brand, and consistent looking social account can be a fantastic foundation for the wider marketing activities for a company. I work with many brands here in Dubai (Scoopi, Sugarmoo, Wendy’s, Cafe B to name but a few), and over time I have learnt that there are a few things to think about (or not), when getting the perfect shots. Here’s six tips to make life a little easier for you…

1: Keep It Simple

 The product you’re shooting needs to be the hero of the shot, not the pretty wallpaper or the flowers that someone suggested will look nice in the background. Obviously, make sure that the colours match in the frame, but make sure there is nothing in there that will take the attention away from your product. It’s good to use props, but make sure they’re not bigger, more interesting or draw the viewers eye more than the product you are shooting. It’s easier to add things in than take them away, so start simple and then build from there. Most of the time, when you look back at your shots, the earlier ones will be the keepers.

2: Props

As a follow on from the above, and in some ways contradictory, (sorry about that), have a think about props for your shots and what could maybe enhance your images. For a coffee shop I recently shot for, we placed a magazine in the corner of the image and a hint of a computer to show a lifestyle feel, and for food photography, could having some of the raw ingredients of a strawberry cheesecake somewhere in the image help convey the taste? As above, keep it simple and don’t clutter the frame, also, make sure the props you use are relevant.

3: Plan Ahead

Before you start to shoot anything, sit with your team, your brand and ideally the photographer to understand the look and feel of what you’re after before you pick up the camera. Look through Instagram and make a mood board of pictures and accounts that you like and want to mimic. It’s much easier to achieve a consistent look and feel when there is a clear cut palette of colours, angles (top down / 90 degrees), and also an idea of lighting. These may sound like things for a photographer to worry about, but everything will run much smoother with these elements agreed before the shoot. Even if you’re shooting this on your own with an iPhone, planning will save time and help with consistency.

4: Lighting

Lighting is key for all good photography, and this is especially true if you’re shooting with an iPhone on a budget for social. Start paying attention to light wherever you are… how do the shadows look? Are they harsh? Are they soft? Is the space you are shooting in only lit by unnatural light such as you get in a mall? As a really basic rule, natural indirect sunlight works best for food, and for products, you need a but more thought to get that polished look. It’s genuinely amazing what can be shot on a phone with two simple table lamps and a couple of pieces of white card, and obviously this only gets better with the more professional equipment you have access to. Also, if you’re shooting outside, avoid the middle of the day with direct sunlight and aim for the start of the day or the end of the day (the golden hours for photography). All of the above is worth considering, and next time you look at a photograph, try to think about where the light source is, what the shadows are doing, and how you could replicate this. Honestly, the more you think about this and notice the light, the better your images will be.


This section is down to taste, as is all photography, and everyone has a different idea of what is acceptable in regards to filters and editing. Speaking personally, I like to try and keep the images as natural as possible, and not add too much of a filter to an image. It can be very frustrating when you’ve edited an image and when a brand posts the image on Instagram, the colours are completely off because of the filters that have been added. Like I say, this is completely down to taste, and if this is what the brand wants, then sure, go ahead and do it. But just be careful. If you want a consistent look and feel to your feeds, a whole range of filters used on a page can make things feel disjointed. Editing is an art, and a lot of photographers even use external sources to edit their images as they appreciate that taking photographs and editing are two separate skills to have. As a rule, learn how to use a program like Lightroom to colour correct your images, and make sure that things are consistent.

6: Hire a professional

If all of the above seems like too much to get to grips with (let’s face it, you’re probably busy enough right now), seriously think about hiring a professional to take your social images for you. You can shoot these in batches over the year to ensure you have enough content to keep your brands social feeds full, and also schedule ahead of time so it turns into a monthly task rather than a daily one. With proper planning and execution, there is no reason that social photography needs to be a headache. Also, if you can, try to work with the same photographer on a long term basis to help get better rates, and also so the photographer understands your brands, understands you and so that everyone can grow together. 

Mark Field – www.markfieldphotography.com – Ex-PR turned photographer based in the Middle-East.

Weber Shandwick team win MENA Young Lions PR Competition

PRCA MENA is pleased to announce that the Weber Shandwick team of Angelina Hedra and Viviana Villasmil have won the MENA Young Lions PR Competition, and will go on to represent the region at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, sponsored by ICCO.

This is the second year PRCA MENA has run the competition which this year saw over 20 entries from teams of two under the age of 30. Teams responded to a brief from Dubai Cares, which performed as the ‘client’. Each team had 24 hours to create a creative and effective campaign.

The Weber Shandwick team won with their ‘#spareoneminuteforchange’ campaign.

Alex Malouf, Jury Chair, Proctor and Gamble said: “There was so much energy, enthusiasm and creativity on display during this year’s MENA Young Lions PR Competition. We were impressed by many of the entries, and it’s fair to say that the region has a strong pipeline of talent on the agency side. Well done to all the entrants, and especially the finalists. The winners of this round will do us proud in Cannes.”

Andreas Keller, Managing Director, Weber Shandwick MENA, Dubai, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Angelina and Viviana were selected by the PRCA to represent the Middle East PR industry at the Young Lions Competition this summer.

“We’ve had many Weber Shandwick teams take part in this competition over the last two years as it provides an excellent platform for young PR professionals to experience the realities of developing integrated campaigns for clients in a pressured environment. Producing Cannes Lions award winning work is something all agencies aspire to do so this is will undoubtedly be a very memorable and enriching experience for both consultants.”

PRCA MENA announces shortlist for Young PR Lions MENA competition

PRCA MENA has announced the shortlist for the Young PR Lions MENA competition to find the best young PR professionals in the country.

Six teams have been shortlisted to win the accolade this year and one of them will be heading to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to take part in the international competition on 18th June, 2017. Each team is made up of two PR professionals aged 30 or under.

The shortlisted agency teams are:

  • David Willet & Mira Assaf- Weber Shandwick
  • Anahita Guha & Anisha Sharma- Golin MENA
  • Dhaliya Zankawi & Ailsa Sachdev- Grayling
  • Angelina Hedra & Viviana Villasmil- Weber Shandwick
  • Swati Jain & Heleen Laurisson – Q Communications
  • Elizabeth Singleton & Naomi Chadderton – Action UAE

The six agencies have been narrowed down from 16 MENA competitors, after responding to a brief set by Dubai Cares, which performed as the ‘client’. Participating agencies had 24 hours to create a campaign.

The shortlisted teams will be asked to deliver a five minute presentation explaining their PR campaign on the 22nd March in Dubai. Following this, there will be a five minute Q&A session.

The judging panel for this years’ competition is: Skender Hacine, Dubai Cares; Alex Malouf, Procter and Gamble; and Iman Issa & James Mitchell, Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

Following this, the winning MENA team will be announced on 23rd March and will receive complimentary accommodation and delegate passes to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

The team will then compete against representatives from more than 30 countries, delivering a presentation for a non-profit organisation in 24 hours that will be judged by a selected jury.

The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) is the sponsor of the Young PR Lions competition to find the most talented young PR team in the world; and PRCA MENA is responsible for running the element of the competition from the region to find the country’s brightest and best young PR talent.




Pushing the boundaries on best practice

Awards and PR often seem to go hand in hand. Whilst there are ample opportunities to submit your best work for recognition amongst industry peers, I was particularly excited about this one! The PRCA MENA Awards held on February 8th was a first for the industry body in the region, since coming to the Middle East just over a year ago.

I’d had the opportunity to attend a number of different workshops, seminars and training programmes over the past 12 months, as a result of being a member, so I’d met and networked with a number of my fellow industry colleagues before. This has been great in terms of learning from different people, sharing best practice and of course building friendships along the way. The Awards, though, provided the opportunity for our work to be judged by comms professionals from the industry internationally, and for us to see what other standout work is going on in the region; it was a night that I was thoroughly looking forward to.

Rather than a traditional awards set up, with their black tie dress codes and sit-down dinners, there was a sense from the outset that the PRCA was trying to do things differently. Everything from the outdoor venue to the informal dining set up and dress code was refreshing, and certainly set the precedent for a different kind of evening.

As a broadcast consultancy, my team at markettiers were on hand to film and create a short highlights showreel of the evening. The interviews we conducted provided us with some more insight about the diverse campaigns and accolades individuals and agencies were up for – and it was fantastic to speak to some of the bright young talent coming out of the region. It absolutely highlighted to me the excellent work that is being delivered every day locally – and the sense that there is a hunger and real ambition for the region to catch up with more mature markets such as London and the US.

But most importantly, the night was all about celebrating success, and the campaigns that received their accolades did not disappoint. Whilst often I have the sense that the Middle East seems to be overshadowed by some of its more developed market contemporaries, this certainly was not the case here.

Every campaign on the shortlist was selected because it pushed the boundaries, sought to inspire and delivered outstanding coverage. This was not just about traditional forms of coverage – the ‘influencer award’ and role that video content played in the finalists’ entries was both refreshing and exciting to see. Innovation it seems is becoming the watchword of a strong entry, and we’re excited to see what the PRCA has in store for the rest of this year, and beyond.

Josh Baker, markettiers