The comedian Bill Hicks once said if you worked in the marketing or advertising business you should kill yourself. Possibly a bit extreme, but his views on those involved in product promotion, corporate communications and suchlike seem to be echoed throughout modern day culture.
Those going into PR pretty much have to recognise that a large proportion of the populace isn’t going to regard you that highly – placing you somewhere in the same bracket as estate agents, personal claim lawyers and traffic wardens.
PR agency Perfect Curve as featured in comedy W1A and Twenty Twelve [Courtesy of the BBC]
Communications director Terri Coverly from The Thick of It [Courtesy of the BBC]
This perception of PR and communications staff is highlighted in TV comedy series like ‘W1A’ and ‘The Thick of It’, where they are consistently portrayed as vacuous, slothful, incompetent and self-serving individuals. So why is it that PR people are so poorly thought of?
Well the unavoidable truth is that there are a lot of examples within the industry that live up to the stereotype just described and sadly these make it very difficult for those of us who are actually good at our job. In reality, the same as with any trade, there will be exponents who are highly capable, conscientious, experienced and responsive, then conversely there will be others who really haven’t got a clue. The question you then need to ask yourself is this – which of these has your company has got?
Having spent over a decade in editorial roles and approaching another seven years now in PR, I have seen both sides of the spectrum. I think what annoys journalists, editors and proficient PR people alike is that many companies simply accept that the PR agency they are engaged with is going to massively under perform – as if it was an inevitable natural occurrence. It really isn’t.
If you are paying a PR firm good money, but they aren’t reaching expectations, then why on earth are you still retaining them? You should really be looking at alternatives. Here are a few key criteria that need to be considered if you think it’s time to find yourself a new PR operation.
Is your current PR agency responsive enough? Magazines have tight deadlines and companies will generally have limited time and resources to meet them. It is therefore the PR agency’s role to try to make up the shortfall on both sides of this dynamic. If that means working into the night to get an item of last minute editorial material turned around, then so be it.
Are they proactive? – If an agency isn’t hounding you to get your input about article/interview opportunities they have uncovered or new ideas that they’ve had, then they aren’t really doing their job properly. An agency employee that is too scared to risk pestering you isn’t going to be able to capitalise on the potential openings that your company has in the press.
Is your PR contact willing to argue with you sometimes? – If the agency that you work with has allocated your account to an inexperienced employee then the chances are that they won’t have the confidence or the knowledge of the industry needed to suggest taking a different approach to something even if they feel that would be for the best interests of your company. Yes the PR person whose salary you are helping to pay should carry out your requests efficiently and comply with your wishes, but another aspect of the job is the ability to question things too. If you just have a yes man or women on your account, then the PR agency is short changing you.
Do they know your industry sector well enough? The PR agency should have a proven track record in this area. If your sector is particularly niche, then they should still be able to show that they have got strong results in other sectors that are relatively similar.
How good is their understanding of your company/products? If the members of the PR agency you deal with lack a reasonable comprehension of your products then you are going to waste a lot of time amending the press material they generate for your company. You are then in effect doing their job for them. By engaging with an agency that has staff who understand your products, technologies, applications and target markets this problem can be circumvented.