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A response to: ‘PR Not Communications’

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Richard Edelman has written a great post ‘PR not Communications’ about what he envisages as the future of his agency in PR. It’s a very good read and is particularly interesting to an international audience because the post was prompted by questions from staff in his London office rather than a North American viewpoint. I personally think that the problem outlined and the solution to it is more nuanced than ‘PR not Communications’:

  • If you understand PR as public engagement then I would agree with you. In fact, I would go as far to as to say that organisations are moving from being ‘marketing orientated’ – focused on the consumer, to being ‘PR orientated’ – focused on relationships and those relationships driving success. I would further argue that ‘we are all PR people now’ (the we being the larger organisation). This does bring the question is PR now too important to be left to PR people, in the way that the same question was asked of marketers previously?

Here is where the nuance comes in:

  • There are many people both within and outside the industry that don’t define PR as public engagement but influencer engagement. I have heard marketers call PR free advertising and digital marketers call it press release distribution. Or worse still, PR is media relations or reputation, which is a codification in many cases for business publication media relations and fire-fighting. In the UK at least, I would argue that the ‘brand of PR is broken; partly because of this mis-definition, but also because of a lack of trust in society: government spin, corporate cover-ups, corruption. The institutions involved may have regained their reputations somewhat, but PR as a profession hasn’t. In fact, Stuart Bruce of Wolfstar mentioned that the PR brand has been broken for the past 20 years, so it isn’t likely to be fixed any time soon

I think that it’s significant that this request for redefinition Richard Edelman mentions in his article was raised in the UK, which is one of  many countries that are less sophisticated than the US in terms of PR.

So what does this all mean?

  • When the UK government legislated around online media and social platforms for marketing purposes, the CIPR wasn’t consulted and in the end had to try and insert itself post-process. This is precisely because PR is seen to be defined by its channels rather than relationships or engagement and this view is perpetuated from the top of the industry

The brand of PR or public relations holds businesses back in terms of growth and scale.

As I’ve talked on this blog recently about the PR brand and its effect on scale / growth potential:

The way it was once put to me was like this: going and buying a campaign from an advertising agency is like going and buying a car from a BMW dealership. You will go to an impressive commercial space, be reassured by the clean room-esque environment of the service area and pay a large amount of money over for your car. Buying a campaign from a PR agency is closer to buying the same BMW in front of someone’s house as a private sale. You turn up, it doesn’t feel particularly reassuring and pay by banker’s draft at an appropriately discounted price.

Edelman’s UK offices in Victoria are not indicative of the state of the PR industry in the UK. Most PR businesses are small operations with sub-1 million GBP turnovers.

PR is often not seen by customers as a strategic spend. The budget is often assigned after media planning, purchase, creative, advertising etc, corporate communications and corporate/social responsibility (CSR) is often used as a sticking plaster when systemic change in product and process is what is really required.

All of this has led to a bleed in talent in the PR industry (at least in the UK agency world) which again I’ve highlighted recently:

With many of the most talented social and digital people in the industry leaving PR and heading towards media planning, search marketing, word-of-mouth marketing and digital creative roles in in-house marketing teams and agencies. Whilst the PR industry does gain from the occasional influx of journalists, they won’t bring the necessary skill sets and expertise that the industry is losing to other sectors.

Having spoken with friends who’ve made the move; I’ve come to the conclusion that all but the biggest agencies in the PR industry is losing an arms race in terms of:

  • Investment in tools
  • Ability to learn from other marketing disciplines
  • Larger client budgets
  • Salary inflation driven by other disciplines looking to expand into PR-related areas

In terms of the client budgets, having spoke to a friend who runs social for a large media buying agency the difference seem to be a factor of ten! This trickle is starting to become a flood, I know of half a dozen people currently making the transition out of the PR industry, which in the relatively small ‘digital / social people in UK PR agency’ world is a significant number.

I suspect that the accelerated convergence driving these agencies to hoover up PR talent is because there is much less budgets to fight over. Generally multi-national companies want to present a good face in the US where they generally have a listing since they would otherwise be worried about equity analyst perceptions. They also want to spend in high-growth markets like east  and south Asia. This means that there tends to be proportionately less money spent in the ‘old Europe’ as a US politician once put it.

In addition there was a more local effect, up until the the general election last year; the UK government had been propping up the advertising and media industry by spending over 1 billion GBP per annum on marketing and advertising. So there is a considerable shortfall in revenue that needs to be made up, by getting more of the available marketing spend. There will be local accelerating effects in other markets: no banking sector to speak of in Ireland and government deficits being reined in across the rest of Europe.

Because of this the UK and Europe are likely to be a fast-moving marketing laboratory experiment showing what will happen over time in other parts of the world.

In the UK, we’ve seen businesses who fit within the digital PR space having to change their model dramatically or are struggling to survive. Whilst Richard Edelman considers his agency to be a PR agency, I’d imagine that the external perception has managed to transcend PR, just as it has for many of the larger agencies, so his argument is probably a mute point. The company I work for is a chimera: half interactive / social, half PR in terms of the face we present to the world and the the work that we do. For many smaller agencies that isn’t a luxury that they enjoy. More on this subject here.

市场营销 | marketing | 마케팅

YouTube takes down Apple employee ‘It gets better’ public service video

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Apple employees put up a beautifully made video of encouragement for young  LGBT people dealing with growing up in a largely conservative world as part of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign. I posted the video on this blog yesterday evening, however overnight it seems to have been taken down. This is what you see at the time of writing:
youtube JPG
There is a bit of irony in all this as Google has previously contributed a video to the campaign. Here’s some of the comments that taking down the video has garnered on the video’s YouTube channel:


Shadowhawke27 (3 hours ago)
Disgusting. They leave videos of hate-filled filth up on YouTube all the time, but they pull down such a beautiful, heartening, message. Can we all band together and demand they put it back up or something?!
itechkid (4 hours ago)
For those who can’t google, this is the reason why YOUTUBE pulled the video:
One difference between the Apple employee video and some of the others we watched, however, is that the Apple employee video includes detailed stories of harassment perpetrated upon them in their youth, as well as accounts of contemplated and attempted suicide. It could be that those accounts caused this video to be pulled.
HelloSerendipity (5 hours ago)
This is really not right. It needs to be reported as an abuse of the system.
ravedog (5 hours ago)
A bunch of people probably flagged it (and lied)… and the automatic process took them down. I hope what happens is that when a YT human finally gets around to reviewing this: that not only do they put the video back up, but that they suspend the accounts of the people who abused the system. Otherwise their hate will just be allowed to run free unchecked.
mericship (6 hours ago)
how is this video any different than those from the Trevor project? Youtube are you kidding me with your reason?!
TheIronTank (6 hours ago)
Why was this video taken down? I wanted to see what it was about. douchebags.
bbg5000 (7 hours ago)
The video was probably automatically removed. I’m guessing a bunch of god-loving, anti-freedom, right-wing conservative loons flagged the video as inappropriate.
donotdreamitbit (7 hours ago)
I am outraged that this video has been removed! We are in the third millennium and this is what gets censored? A video encouraging people to hold on to precious life? These are dire times indeed if that is not an acceptable message.
drumpat01 (8 hours ago)
WHy did they remove your video?? WTF YouTube??

Is this incident highlighting the problems of automated moderation systems, or Google taking the beef with Apple to a new level?

UPDATE: The video is now back up and running, you can watch it here.

市场营销 | marketing | 마케팅

PR leadership

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I have been thinking about the change in the PR industry and leadership aspect of maintaining teams in this fast-changing industry. A lot of the issues are commercial and structural, which means that we may want to throw our hands up and say what can we do?

As Stuart Bruce of Wolfstar rightly pointed out in one of his comments on one of my earlier posts: Love the car analogy, but it doesn’t help us get to the ‘solution’. As part of the solution, what at least some of us can do is think about how we move from managing people to leading people in a way that they will want to follow us.

You may be line-managing people, but how are you leading them?

I was really fortunate that I started my career as a junior team member involved in plant process operation in the petrochemical industry along the Mersey basin. It was hard, unpleasant, hazardous work; with an environment that was misogynistic in nature and didn’t tolerate failure.

But I learned more about life and work in that short time than any other and I worked with people who where inspirational.

What do I mean by inspirational, since it seems to be an overused concept now?

I don’t mean that they gave good PowerPoint; but that you wanted to follow in their work boots. I also knew that if I got lit up like a roman candle, or was getting boiled alive with a burst steam line  my gaffer would be there trying to put me out.

This video by Stanley McChrystal says it more succinctly and elegantly than I can

It’s about:

  • Believing in the best of your people in terms of integrity and work ethic, but not taking it for granted. If they don’t measure up to that, they are the wrong people
  • Listening: some things aren’t in books, or trend reports, or the FT and certainly not The Economist
  • Building consensus; as a leader you may not have all the answers
  • Being transparent as a leader
  • Realising that commitment is a two-way street; as an industry we are very good at demanding what we want from people. But the flip-side of this is that they need to know that you have their back. That you will move heaven-and-earth (or even work hours) if you have to. It is about taking the ‘self’ out the equation (apologies if I am sounding very Zen at the moment). I once asked to take a pay cut to help finance better pay for a junior team member that I worked with – the resources to give them what they needed suddenly became available. If you are not prepared to go to the line; either you are not the leader they deserve (either through a failure of imagination or integrity); or there was a failure in the HR process that let the wrong type of people into your organisation. Ultimately; if you are established in your role, the buck stops with you in either scenario
  • Allowing people to fail, without them feeling like a failure; which is key for their learning especially since there are so many different ways of doing things now in PR; often we are so focused on client service that we can lose sight of this.  And when your team members are ready to move on to other things or places with their career; this is when they will most need you to be gracious and provide assistance. This isn’t the end, its about fostering a long term relationship that is likely to pay dividends in the long run