The ‘anything but selling’ brigade in PR

THERE IS a curious group of people who don’t want PR to be about selling anything, and certainly don’t want it to be about getting media coverage or other third-party endorsements. They believe that there was once a golden age of PR, during which these vulgar things were never done. But, in the Sixties, marketing departments took control of budgets and made PR do things that made money.

Ever since, PR people have been forced to do “publicity”, which, it is claimed, should have nothing to do with PR.

This supposed “golden age” never existed. The two American founding fathers of modern public relations, Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays, were prodigious users of media relations. Both were former journalists. Lee invented the press release in 1905. He also wrote a book, based on his speeches, called Publicity.

The British founder of modern public relations, Sir Basil Clarke, had been a Daily Mail and Guardian journalist, worked as a press officer, principally did PR through media relations, and created the first British PR agency, known as Editorial Services. Its early clients, according to Richard Evans’s biography, “included the national Milk Publicity Council, for which it secured an average of 135 newspaper cuttings per month”.

Some in-house PR teams run away from doing media relations, because – at the very basic level of “Did we get any coverage?” – success or failure is black and white. It is much easier to say that securing media coverage and other weighty third-party endorsements no longer matter, and just concentrate on things where failure cannot be easily measured. Like lobbying for a seat on the board or sitting in meetings all day pretending to be profound.

The result of such nonsense is that chief executives frequently have no idea what their PR department is up to, and whether it is doing any good. As Fraser Seitel, the former senior vice president and director of public affairs at of Chase Manhattan Bank, explained: “In most people’s minds (including, importantly, those who pay public relations people), it is publicity – the ability to earn ‘endorsement’ from an objective, unbiased, indifferent and neutral third party – that constitutes the essence of public relations.

“That’s why it really is criminal that many people engaged in public relations don’t know the first thing about dealing with the media.”

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: March 3rd, 2014, In Categories: Media relations

How not to answer questions at a press conference

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: March 2nd, 2014, In Categories: PR disasters

Never cold call a journalist

People new to the PR industry frequently ask me for advice on cold calling journalists, which they’ve been told to do by bosses. They find that journos can be rude and sound irritated by their calls.

The solution is never to cold call a journalist.

By cold calling, I mean calling a journalist simply because they’re on a list, and without researching him comprehensively first. If you read relevant articles he’s written, study his Twitter feed, and mention on the phone something he’s previously done, you’ll get a much better response on the phone than if you do it cold.

A journalist gets irritated on the phone because they think they’re being called by the PR equivalent of those ambulance-chasing call centres, which ring every number in the telephone directory to ask about “your accident”, even though you probably haven’t been in an accident. Practitioners who understand what makes the journalist tick will avoid hostility.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: February 28th, 2014, In Categories: Media relations

The purpose of PR is always to sell

Profit increase


There’s a whole industry of people out there who try to claim that PR, in the business world, is about anything but sales. They say it’s about reputation, about creating buzz, about stakeholder engagement or about getting a thick bundle of press cuttings. Those are all things that PR people work on, but they aren’t the end purpose, which is always to increase sales.

When a PR campaign enables more sales to occur, the client paying for it is delighted. When a PR agency squirms and wiggles and pretends that it’s not their job to help sales, but simply to get press coverage, the client wonders: what’s the point?

For many PR agencies, the problem is that they do increase their clients’ sales, but they can’t prove it. And that’s why measuring the effectiveness of PR is so important. Some PR practitioners tell me that measurement is “boring” and an “unnecessary overhead”. I’ve seen even big agencies refuse to do any form of meaningful measurement on the grounds that the budget was too small. They’re wrong: proper measurement is actually a necessary part of keeping clients happy – and retaining them.

By proper measurement, I don’t mean the Advertising Value Equivalency, which is much hated by clients. The AVE pretends to calculate what the column inches would have cost to buy as advertising. Ludicrously, it always assumes that the client paid the listed price for the advert (which no one does). It is particularly problematic because an advert says exactly what you want it to say, whereas editorial does not. That doesn’t stop users of AVEs then multiplying the figure by a made-up number on the grounds that editorial coverage is more convincing than advertising. For business-to-business and SME clients who many not be great fans of advertising anyway, its use is utterly irrelevant.

Good measurements can be as simple as asking new customers: “How did you hear of us?”. Not 100% accurate, I’ll grant you, but should give you an indication. Some PR agencies poll their clients’ potential buyers on their awareness and favourability towards the brand before and after a campaign. That gives some clue of whether the PR is working. Big companies, such as Procter & Gamble and the Miller Brewing Company, have used complicated Marketing Mix Modelling to extract the effectiveness of different types of marketing – including PR – on sales. That sort of modelling doesn’t come cheap, they clearly find it useful.

Of course, there are pros and cons of all those methods. For traditional media it is vital that PR agencies get coverage which clients want to share with their prospective and current customers. For example, a glowing product review in a magazine can be licensed as a PDF and sent to everyone who enquires. An article in a major newspaper that quotes the CEO can be sent to current customers to remind them of the firm’s industry leadership. After all, if sales and marketing teams aren’t making full use of coverage, are they really getting the best value for their PR money?

For online coverage, the measurement gets a lot simpler. It’s possible to track where web visitors come from. Agencies can create dedicated web pages for particular PR campaigns, perhaps offering money-off vouchers or white papers, in exchange for an email address. That allows easily measurement of sales – whether you’re selling in shops or directly.

Businesses large and small are increasingly concerned about measuring the effectiveness of their marketing expenditure. In the future, only the agencies which can prove their worth will thrive.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: February 24th, 2014, In Categories: PR strategy

If you don’t want to share your media coverage with your prospects, is it useful?

I have a friend who was interviewed in a quality Sunday newspaper about his life in business. At the time he was head of a company which made its money selling business-to-business. His B2B PR agency had finally delivered something, having struggled over a couple of years to get anything even in the trade press.

When the newspaper’s syndication department contacted my friend to ask if he wanted to licence a PDF, he thought about it and decided not to. You see, the article was about his personal history, his mistakes and how he had overcome them. But he concluded that the article would do nothing to increase sales of a product that people need to feel comes from an established, solid company. And, indeed, he didn’t notice any sales increase after the article appeared.

The principal reason in B2B PR for national coverage is for it to act as a third-party endorsement for your company or for the ideas you are trying to sell. If you don’t want to email it to your customers, tweet about it or quote from it on your blog, this suggests that the coverage lacks enough relevance.

Too often, PR’s success or failure is evaluated by the number of press cuttings received, with no attempt to understand what sort of coverage is most helpful. Truth is, it is easy to get media coverage if you don’t care what the message is. The skill is in securing quality coverage that genuinely benefits those paying for it.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: February 22nd, 2014, In Categories: Media relations