The misleading measurement that’s definitely not for the benefit of buyers

WHAT’S THE principal purpose of measuring PR campaigns? Well, it’s not actually to prove to buyers (employers or clients) using honest measures that you’re doing a good job – though that a secondary reason for doing it. It is actually help people running PR campaigns to continually improve what they are doing.

If a PR practitioner – as a result of measurement – knows that nothing happened as a result of appearing in various titles, or running a Facebook campaign, he can move resources to those activities that are helping to influence the right people.

Depressingly, it seems, part of the PR industry has a third objective for measurement, which is to present clients with an entirely bogus measure of PR, in order to keep their jobs.

Tom Watson, professor of public relations at Bournemouth University, has surveyed students who went on a placement year in the PR industry. And it seems that 43.2% of placement organisations used the unethical measurement system known as Advertising Value Equivalency. It is unethical because its entire basis is inflated.

Of course, a failing head of PR can come across well by presenting the chief executive with a figure for Advertising Value Equivalency. It can make the PR department look like it is delivering excellent value for money, when in fact it’s squandering money on unfocussed and irrelevant activities.

Prof Watson is right to highlight that “AMEC members, who wrote and adopted the Barcelona Principles which barred use of AVE, are leading the way in its continued usage.”

Richard Bagnall, founder of Metrica, counters that: “The issue we have with the suppliers is that they all feel that there is still a market demand for AVEs and as they are commercial organisations they would therefore be crazy not to provide it. If one of the big suppliers stopped providing them and the others didn’t, then that company (they would argue) would be at a significant disadvantage.”

Actually, I think vendors of measurement software could learn something from CVS Pharmacy. It was always absurd that a company that was in the healthcare industry was selling cigarettes. Its announcement that it would, on its own, cease to sell cigarettes did their brand fantastic good. The publicity was significant and created a halo around the brand. A measurement company that took industry leadership and simply said that it is wrong to facilitate such ridiculous and unethical measures would, in my view, do very well.

After all, who’s going to say, “Oh, we’re retendering our measurement because X won’t let us fake our figures”?

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: March 5th, 2014, In Categories: PR strategy

Tim Traverse-Healy’s motherhood and apple pie credo

ONE OF the giants of post-World War II public relations, Tim Traverse-Healy, has published a “credo” for the PR industry. I can’t say I I’m a fan of it. It reads like something a trade union might have produced, not the reflection of a serious industry that exists to serve its clients.

Here’s what Mr Traverse-Healy writes (bear in mind that propaganda used to mean to propagate something):

I do not believe that “propaganda” for causes and issues or “publicity” for products and services are per se public relations activities, although they might form part of an overall public relations programme; similarly advertising, promotion, press agentry, and communications. I believe there exist extra dimensions to the practice of professional public relations which must be present in almost equal measure before an initiative can be so termed and which grant it societal meaning and community worth. I submit that, in accord with the universally accepted principles of Freedom of Information and Expression, these ingredients are: truth, paramount concern for the public good and genuine dialogue.

Some of that is just standard business ethics – like telling the truth. But I have never heard a client say that the core objective of their PR campaign is enrich “societal meaning”.

No doubt this credo will appeal to those who are hostile to business. But I would contend two things: firstly, the pursuit of profit by business leads to the common good. Second, that the paramount concern of a PR consultant is to improve his client’s condition. To displace that paramount concern would be unethical.

The biggest problem with the PR industry is that too often in-house PR teams and external agencies fail to help those paying for PR to meet genuine business objectives – such as generating leads, raising awareness of the brand in front of relevant prospects and improving reputation among buyers. Instead, there is considerable vagueness about what PR will achieve, with PR practitioners spouting nonsense about “two-way synchronous dialogue”. Combined with a failure in the majority of the industry to invest properly in skills, it’s hardly a surprise that many companies worry about the quality of PR personnel that they can hire.

It’s time for that to change.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: March 4th, 2014, In Categories: PR strategy

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