Press relations: is your consultancy just going through the motions?

I was asked the other day if I could recommend a PR agency, and I immediately replied that if “PR” meant “press relations” rather than “public relations” (which is normally the case for industrial and scientific companies), then no, I couldn’t. It’s not because I don’t know lots of good PR consultants, but I haven’t been the recipient of press relations for a few years now, and if I was still an editor, I know my requirements would have changed in that time …significantly. Maybe I’d want to follow companies on Twitter now, or maybe I’d monitor company blogs on an RSS reader …there are many more options open to today’s editors and journalists than waiting for press releases to appear in the inbox. What do they use? Which PR companies exploit the channels effectively? I don’t know. However, one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s the best place to turn to for recommendations: the editors and journalists themselves. Most will be happy to point you in the right direction, because if every company used good press relations people, the editor’s life would be a much happier one.

It’s quite clear from talking to my friends in the trade press that although the requirements put on PR agencies are more varied than ever, the agencies are failing to rise to the challenge. When I said to one editor that I reckoned 50% of them were rubbish ten years ago, he replied: “in that case, 75% are now”. One problem is that clients are less willing than ever to pay a professional rate for a professional service; but equally, some PR agencies appear to have no understanding of how the market has changed. Journals might be thinner, but that doesn’t mean editors have more time on their hands; staff numbers have been reduced accordingly, and in many cases, an editor has to manage more than one title.

If I was employing a PR agency, I think the first question I’d be asking is: “How have you changed the way you work over the last few years?” The answer should be impressive. If it’s not, there are plenty of alternatives, and you know the people to ask to find out who they are. Twenty years ago, there were plenty of PR people whose main selling point appeared to be the fact that they’d been around forever, and they didn’t need to offer anything else. Those days are gone, and rightly so.

Discussion

  1. Ian Clay

    Hi Chris, I read your article today with interest and agree with most of what you say. A good example of how the journalists needs have changed is the just launched http://www.giveme5minuteswiththepress.com – it’s a speed briefing event where the journalists get 12 stories in an hour. I think you’d have liked it when you were a journalist.

  2. MaurizioFantato

    As usual a very insightful and incisive article. I have experienced the world of PR from the perspective of a customer, when I was a Marcom manager for an international organisation, and currently as a provider of these services. My opinion is that while there is absolutely no doubt that the world of PR (as in press relations) has changed dramatically the reality is quite complex as some of the vestiges of old practices remain in place, together with some truly cutting edge stuff that will revolutionise the way we work.

    Many clients, for example, while eager to embrace social media are either doing so under pressure, or have limited understanding of the necessary processes that need to be in place to carry out a truly effective, holistic and contemporary communication campaign.

    On the other hand, I recently polled all the journalists we dealt with to ask them whether we could Tweet news to them or whether they preferred to receive information in the usual way. Much to my surprise the vast majority replied by saying that they preferred it as an old fashioned email. And I can understand that given that it’s relatively simpler to arrange information in various folders etc than having to deal with a deluge of Tweets.

    As I also live with a journalist I am fortunate enough to get the view from that side of things and the various complaints about PR agencies are numerous, though mostly related to content. It’s still the same old story… There is no point in sending irrelevant information, it’s a disservice to the industry. So content and its subsequent management and diffusion through a variety of engaging channels is king.

    I know of many agencies like ours where PR isn’t just pushing stuff out but is seen as part of a more complex and rewarding process to engage with a specific audience. So perhaps, Chris, isn’t all gloom and doom in the PR agencies universe and those companies worth their salt must necessarily reinvent themselves, constantly, in order to be in business and to provide value for money and effectiveness.

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