General PR

“Triaging Corporate Snafus”: Forbes guide to PR

Forbes magazine has just published a piece about the PR biz, describing it as The Single Greatest Marketing Tool. No huge surprises in it. But I was intrigued to learn that one of the key roles of PR is "triaging corporate snafus"

Yes, it had me wondering for a few minutes – however, after a quick look at the dictionary, I think the author was trying to think of a different way of saying "crisis communications."

Still, she may be on to something. Describing yourself as a snafu triagist sounds way more exotic than crisis communications consultant.

General PR

More on the disconnect between PR/marketing agencies and their potential customers

Just stumbled across Rainmaker’s latest New Business Survey which reports
on how U.S. marketing communications agencies should best engage with
prospective clients for the purpose of winning new business.

They polled
opinion from 150 major US brand spenders, in respect of three areas
where accurate insights are critical for effective new business
activity. A series of questions were put to marketing decision-makers to
confirm: (1) what prompts them to search for a new agency, (2) the most
effective ways for agencies to engage with them, and (3) the reasons
they choose one agency over another.

Says Rainmaker: "The findings reveal sharp contrasts between what marketing agencies
tell us and what marketing decision-makers are telling us. These have
enabled us to make some straightforward recommendations for how
agencies might alter their approach to become more effective at new
business". (And even though this is a US based survey, I think you’d find a similar situation here in the UK):

In the main, clients don’t feel that size matters, but in the main agencies do. Agencies should not sell themselves so vigorously on size, neither should they worry so much about size being an issue.

The majority of clients (83%) don’t feel geographical location is an issue – many agencies think it is. Agencies should not overly worry that their physical location will prevent clients from buying a winning solution from them.

85% of clients don’t feel agencies prepare enough –
many agencies don’t invest much in this area or prefer to fire from the
hip – which looks cool, but you can often miss. Agencies must invest more in effective intelligence on their prospects.

Most clients (75%) are buying solutions to their
business problems – most agencies think the client is looking for
advertising, or PR, or design or whatever other silo fits their model. Agencies should present a solution, not a discipline.

Clients want agencies to be far more proactive – most agencies like to sit in the bunker. Agencies should proactively reach out to the brands they want to work with.

A major trend, and one which will undoubtedly impact
on all marketing communications agencies depending on how prepared they
already are, is the increase in demand from clients for better customer
insights. This tallies with our own experience – the improved new
business performance of agencies that embrace this point speaks for
itself. Agencies should develop keener customer insights and communicate these energetically to their prospect-base.


Download the full Survey results here.  

General PR

PR industry’s biggest punch up begins



Fight! Fight! Fight!  Amanda Chapel at Stumpette has issued an open (and very forthright) letter to the CEOs and Chief Execs of the top 50 PR agencies in the US and UK.

Her question was: "Where are you?!! Listen… we had a Call to Action last week where we invited a number of you here to a critical debate about the future of our business. Not one showed up."

She concludes by saying: "Bottom line, the business has never been more pathetic and you are
endorsing it with your silence. Used to be that once a year or so a
major paper would variously satirize us; today, on Strumpette, there’s
something daily. Frankly, we cannot keep up.IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE! Help us end the silence. Speak up now
or forever hold you peace. We invite you to join us the concerned
majority in an effort to reestablish the respected professional
discipline of PR. No more obfuscation. We’d like each of you to stand
up and show your support and especially your smarts.TELL US! What should we do and how do you personally plan to lead us there?"

And first off the blocks with a response is  Joel Postman, EVP of Eastwick Communications. His piece titled "The Costcofication of Media" is well worth a read.

I agree with some his conclusions, namely: "As corporate marketing budgets tighten, and internal communications
staff is cut, and turned over to junior (read less expensive, more
easily abused) people, it is inevitable that corporations will look to
outsource more and more communications functions and projects to PR and
advertising agencies and marketing firms. Giovanni Rodriguez terms it
"a crisis of identity" for agencies. I would call it a crisis of
quality for clients. The result is that many corporations have
inadvertently chosen to do one-stop shopping for a cart full of
generic, low-cost media."

However, I took the following comment with a pinch of salt: "Messaging, writing and media relations, along with analyst relations,
are at the core of the universe of things that PR agencies do very
well. Better than anyone in fact. It’s why we exist. And clients who
understand the importance of these three things, pursue them, commit to
them, budget for them, and listen to counsel, get results."

Messaging, writing and media relations are things that PR agencies OUGHT to do very well – but as we’ve documented here ad nauseum, the general skill level in writing and media relations is on the decline. Is it all the nasty client’s fault for cutting budgets? Which means that agency training budgets get cut and cheaper, less experienced labour has to be deployed? It is certainly a factor – but it can’t all be the client’s fault. Can it?

General PR

Fat Smoker Principles: Build Relationship Plans Not Sales Plans > Passion, People and Principles > Fat Smoker Principles: Build Relationship Plans Not Sales Plans.

As ever, more good sense from Mr Maister. I like his distinction between illustrating and asserting – much like my example of "show" versus "tell" in connection with press releases.

DM: Virtually every company I meet says they have a strategy of growing their key relationships.

However, whenever I ask to see the plans of what they intend to do to build these relationships, it becomes immediately clear that what they have is a sales plan, not a relationship plan.

The difference should be (but clearly isn’t) obvious. A sales plan is about getting straight to what the provider wants: assignments and revenues. Sales plans, which are almost always aimed at a short-term impact, are filled of activities about "cross-selling’ – making more contacts and setting up CRM systems to ensure that coverage and frequency is adhered to.

I have no moral objection to this approach, except for the misappropriation of the word "relationship" as a proxy for the word sales.

However, I do have doubts that this kind of approach will produce what the firms are looking for.

A relationship plan is what it says it is: a set of activitites designed to build and deepen an asset – the relationship. The theory is that, where there is a strong asset – a strong relationship bond – there WILL BE a (greater) stream of revenues in the future. But to get there, you must focus on activities which are not designed to generate sales, but to earn and deserve the relationship.

A relationship plan, to be effective, is all, about figuring out what you could do FOR this client (unpaid) to invest in the relationship, in order to predispose the client to use you more frequently (and for more interesting things) in the future.

A good "invest in the relationship" tactic passes three tests:

1. It shows that you are willing to invest your own time to earn and deserve the relationship

2. It’s done insuch a way that, by doing it, you get to learn more about the client

3. It’s done in such a way that you get the chance to illustrate, not assert, that you can be useful to the client above and beyond the specifics of what you are working on now for the client.

Tested against these criteria, few firms (or individuals) have well-thought-out relationship plans. All they have are vague plans to go see someone in the hopes that a job will come out of it.

General PR

David Meerman Scott: thank you for the name check

Rather remiss of me not to say thanks to David Meerman Scott for the acknowledgement  in his latest book, The New Rules of PR and Marketing. So, again, thank you. Glad I was able to make a (small) contribution to your efforts.

General PR

Talking to journalists is a waste of time: David Maister

Professional services guru David Maister has a provocative post here regarding the value of talking to journalists (admittedly in the context of professional services firms).

He says: "Experience has taught me that being quoted like this
doesn’t really help promote my business or affect the likelihood of me getting
hired….I think the marketing benefits of talking to
journalists, and press coverage in general, are way over-rated for professional

On one level, he has a point. An isolated quote probably isn’t going to result in a boat load of sales enquiries. But generating many of these over time absolutely goes towards building credibility with key audiences. Also, it doesn’t take into account how that quote can be used in other marketing activity – even if prospects and customers don’t see the original article, nothing to stop you using links to these articles on our own website, DM, advertising, etc. David seems to have fallen into the trap of considering PR in isolation. Although one quote in itself may not be do the trick, how you maximise its usage certainly can.

General PR

UK PR industry dead in 10 years: PR Week

OK – they didn’t actually say that – but the latest issue of PR Week contains a number of articles, which, taken together, paint a rather gloomy picture of the UK PR industry and its future.

First up, a survey of junior PR folk, conducted in December 2006, showed that a "staggering" (PR Week’s own word) 80pc of them were planning to leave the industry within 10 years. 15pc said they would get out after only 1 or 2 years, with 32pc saying they’d exit in 2 – 5. A further 27pc said they might remain in PR for between 5 and 10 years.

PRCA director-general Patrick Barrow argues that this is a "social trend" ie PR is not the only sector to suffer from a lack of long term career interest among the younger workforce. But he then goes on to concede that the traditional PR agency model puts "disproportionate pressure on those at the bottom of the heap." (A curious use of words – it immediately conjured up an image of poor Oliver Twist PR types scrabbling around for scraps asking for "more "while their cold hearted bosses told them to work harder for less…).

In another feature, 30 year old B-M veteran Adam Lewis admitted he had seriously considered leaving the industry early his career: "At a junior level, PR can be tough: development paths are blurred and is heavy on admin compared with the hand-holding and structure you find in professions such as law and management consultancy." (I like Adam’s diplomacy – development paths are blurred = training and development are non existent).

And then Firefly Chief Exec Claire Walker says: "There is a dearth of good people out there. We’re suffering a real skills shortage in PR."

PR Week then chip in with a further a piece about the recent introduction of Employment Equality Regulations : "Middle Management level PRs – average age 35 and 41 for consultancy and in-house staff respectively – are those most likely to quit their jobs in the next 2 to 3 years."

This  article  also  shows PR agencies as  the biggest culprits in terms of breaking the rules on ageist job ads. According to Neville Price at recruitment firm Price Trace Hawes: "Ignorance of the regulations is not a defence. I suspect there is an attitude problem with consultancies thinking they can either just get away with it, or assuming the legislation does not apply to them for whatever reason."

So if we join the dots here, what conclusions can we draw?

First, if the head of a major PR industry trade body likens the agency model to a dog eat dog rubbish tip, is it any wonder "those at the bottom of the heap" aren’t going to stick around.

Second – who will actually be left to do any PR if middle managers and junior staff don’t intend to stick around in the business. And simply ignoring employment law in order to hire more junior fodder for the meat grinder isn’t going to work either. Will senior level execs want to get their hands dirty in doing the real grunt work – well, they might have to if there is nobody left to do it for them.

Not a happy picture – or, perhaps, for the apparently dwindling band of experienced folk who are still around, perhaps we can hoover up the work that’s left by everyone else jumping the ship?

General PR

Why PR Gets No Respect: Eric Dezenhall

The ever excellent Strumpette has a guest piece from the self-styled US "pit bull of public relations," Eric Dezenhall, on why senior corporate managers have such a low opinion of PR. (Full article here.)

I confess that I have never come across Mr Dezenhall before – but his views are frank and original to say the least.

Here are some of his pearls of wisdom:

"One of the chief complaints of public relations executives is that our
discipline isn’t respected by top corporate management. Is it possible
that PR hasn’t earned that respect? I think so, and will offer one
possible explanation: PR people tend to traffic in Mother Goose crisis
management bromides that are at direct odds with what real world
experience teaches.

There’s no better example of this than that post-Watergate
canard that if Nixon has just “fessed up” and apologized, the break-in
scandal would have gone away. The PR industry’s evangelical belief in
the mea culpa and its attendant rhetoric don’t square with what real
world experience teaches, and people in positions of responsibility
know it.
Had Nixon fessed up and apologized, he would have been quickly
impeached, tried in a court of law and convicted, not to mention been
dismembered in Lafayette Park."

"In Western culture, it’s understandable that we tie apology to
forgiveness. This is especially tempting since the public relations
industry, in a desperate attempt to win respect from the broader
culture, preaches this line so zealously
. Hard evidence from the PR war
zones, however, suggests that apologies work best when the violation is
either aberrant or isolated. As for defusing more chronic battles, one
is more likely to get out alive by entering the fray and navigating the
cross-currents rather than assuming a swiftly spun apology will win the
day. Seasoned executives and general counsels understand the
vicissitudes of human nature and the marketplace and are more likely to
respect PR counselors who do, too."

Pretty, it ain’t – but you can see how his Machivaeli-style PR real politick gives him some clout in the US.

Alternatively, you could argue that Dezenhall paints a very ugly picture of top level corporate America – and their legal advisors – and thus in order to be respected, PR needs to behave in the same fashion.

You takes your choices…..