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.