SHORTLY AFTER writing a blog post on the “The ‘anything but selling’ brigade in PR“, a fervent debate began on Twitter and elsewhere, started by Robert Phillips. He argued that “PR is dead” and denounced “Its business model, dominated on the consultancy side by bloated networks selling bureaucracy over transformation and generalists over deep expertise”. Curiously, he suggested replacing PR with something called “Public Leadership”.
Personally, I don’t buy the notion that the PR networks sell bureaucracy. They are successful precisely because they offer a lower-cost alternative to expanding in-house teams. They are more easily sackable than in-house teams and their performance is more frequently monitored. Moreover, companies hire big agencies precisely because they have a huge range of in-house expertise.
Anyway, back to Mr Phillips’s point about “Public Leadership”. On the one hand, this sounds like semantics. PR practitioners – ever since Ivy Lee – have advocated that companies should lead the debate. There are significant commercial advantages in being the first to understand public opinion and act on it. On the other hand, the Twitter discussion became much stranger after Mike Love, of Burson Marsteller, asked the eminently sensible question:
— Mike Love (@therealitygap) March 27, 2014
Robert Phillips replied with:
— Robert Phillips (@citizenrobert) March 27, 2014
Mr Phillips then denounced “mad market fundamentalists”, which made him sound like a member of some hard-Left wing pressure group. Consultancies have to market and sell their expertise, because if they didn’t, they’d go out of business. Mr Phillips didn’t seem to respond to Mike Love’s comment on KPIs, but the reason CEOs authorise significant sums for corp comms departments, reputation management, public affairs, social media engagement and the like is because they believe that how they engage with stakeholders has an effect on their reputation, which leads to sales and sustainable profits.
Were the PR industry – or whatever it could be called – to go around saying that it has nothing to do with sales, I somehow doubt it would survive for too long.
IN MY BOOK, The PR Masterclass, I have a chapter on dealing with incoming media calls. Among other things, it covers how to deal with potentially hostile interviews – especially useful when you’re dealing with a PR crisis. Here’s a short extract:
It is, of course, always important to assess whether a request for an interview, or other involvement, is a trap. If your business is in any way controversial – maybe you build wind turbines, which some campaigners hate – make sure you find out exactly what the journalist’s plan is.
If a journalist wants to do the dirty on you, he will be extremely vague about the nature of the intended coverage, which should be a red flag. There is no shame in resist- ing a request for an interview until the editorial line being promoted is revealed.
If you are providing an interview with an executive, and you have the slightest worry, exchange emails with the media organisation confirming what they have told you on the phone about the scope and purpose of the interview and how long it will last.
The book also covers how to respond to negative coverage, and the rare occasions when it’s appropriate to withdraw the use of a press office. It says:
There may be times – especially if your company is controversial – that you find that a publication routinely writes negative stories about you. This can be depressing, and how you deal with it requires caution.
You can order the book here.
THE FEBRUARY issue of Communicate magazine – a title for corporate communicators – contains a two-page spread from me about writing comment articles in national newspapers.
Writing such articles is a skill that is by no means universal among corporate communicators, but this article – an extract from my book – will get people off to a great start.