Posted by Amanda Chapel
10 Things Fundamentally Wrong with the Business Today
Important quote and great question. Richard subsequently answers that saying basically: "We should move toward conversations and open discussion. We should confront misbehavior in PR so that the business community knows that we do not condone malpractice. We need to promote our best work to these same publics. And lastly, PR people should persuade clients to take the risk of speaking out about important issues."
Suffice to say, moving clients toward open discussions and persuading them to assume that risk is probably not going to increase trust. Well sure, if their parachute opens, I imagine it will but...
Also, selling a different set of services as a response to a bad customer experience is faulty logic. I was kinda hoping you would have sold me the right bill of goods the first time Rich. I'll take a pass.
Now, as to more puffing of your supposed good works, that's no help either. I've just about had all the PR puffing I can use for one lifetime, maybe three.
So how about really focusing on confronting the "misbehavior" part? There's your elephant my friend. And until you (plural) fess up and assure me that it is not going to happen again variously, I am not going to trust you. Simple as that.
Okay, let's first review what's the root cause of the split to see if we might heal this rift. Simply, PR is the business of manufacturing perception used to influence; and the very same tools that have given consumers the upper hand today, also have provided the ability for hyper scrutiny. Regrettably, what ultra-close examination has revealed in most cases is that the sum total of PR's work product is... well... hooey. There's no there there. Add to that, that modern technology has compressed the sales-belief-disappointment cycles so much that the net result is that before I've had a chance to get over from the last time you schtupped me, I look down and you're rabidly humping my leg again.
So let's talk specifics. Here are the 10 things fundamentally wrong with the business of PR today. Fix these first and then we'll talk about letting you back inside the house.
1. Bait and switch. Remember that gray-haired guy at the agency's new business presentation. Well, for the record, he was not a paid actor, but might as well have been. He will not be doing one iota of work on your behalf. Frankly, you the prospective client will never see him again. Sorry. His role is exclusively to get you to sign the contract.
2. Overbilling. There's just not a chance in hell Amy spent 83.5 hours on your account this month. For Christ's sake, there are only 12 key editors. If her padding were anywhere close to reality, you'd have at least one editor pressing charges for harassment.
Bottom line: Bill padding is just a fact of agency-life sadly. Take that away and few if any agencies would survive.
3. Ethical challenges. It is not only what we didn't do for your money... it's what we do for money. Now, of course, here we'll get a lot of practitioners claiming that they are like "lawyers in the court of public opinion" and that "everyone is entitled to a good defense." Right... you can believe that nonsense all the way to the bank and back. But this isn't about defense, this isn't court and you ain't no lawyer. What it is about is PR's inclination for being complicit in public fraud. Time and again, PR is the megaphone for the snake-oil huckster and stock scam. Remember the tech bubble? We were the air in that bubble. Think of the millions of dollars presently being moved out of pharma advertising because of regulation. Who's the heir? There is not an agency on the planet that will turn it down no matter how unethical it might be convincing people to take more drugs who aren't necessarily sick.
4. Lack of discipline. The core of good PR was once good writing. PR was a craft. Try to find that today. The writing skill is all but dead. Here's a doozie courtesy of Text 100's CEO Aedhmar Hynes:
I ran that through a writing analysis application. It returned this diagnosis: "You overwhelmingly embrace obfuscation and don't want the reader to understand anything you have to say. Your writing lavishes a preponderance of dependent clauses and compound negatives upon the reader, whose cognitive load not infrequently exceeds the purported benefit of the substance of the paragraph. Syntax incorporates numerous collections of items juxtaposed or in series that demand persistence and not a little unqualified expertise on the part of all intended recipients of the author's communications. In fact, such machinations inevitably prove detrimental to comprehension and sabotage the imparting of any and all knowledge. Your condition is irreversible." (Gotta love the irony of the diagnosis.)
In pointing this out to Hynes, she said, "It seems justifiable to me that I sometimes think out loud without going through a lengthy editing process which might polish up the prose but would probably lose the authenticity of my thoughts."
I told her that whether a blog or a corporate earnings statement, if your aim is to communicate and you expect to be understood, clear writing is pretty basic. Writing, and thinking for that matter, is a discipline that today is all but lost. Frankly, it has not done much for "authenticity" either.
5. Feminization of the business of PR. For obvious reasons, this topic overwhelmingly exceeds this article. So, at the risk of gross oversimplification:
According to Larissa Grunig, Elizabeth Lance Toth and Linda Childers Hon in their seminal work "Women in Public Relations: How Gender Influences Practice," feminization has had a severe negative impact on the business. The authors liken the trend to the evolution of the typing pool. Where it was once a respected and reasonably paid career choice, it's been relegated to the bottom of the corporate food chain.
Bottom line: this trend radically altered PR's course. The industry has morphed from hard consulting business to a softer consensus promotion practice. Just the phrase "command and control" is now perceived to be laced with testosterone. Today, that's strictly discouraged. Unfortunately, then came the Web. Consensus is a particularly bad business strategy on the Web, i.e. it is tantamount to herding cats.
And lastly, as this is a hot social issue, the problem is fully rationalized and even staunchly defended.
6. Cut and paste (turnkey creative). Early in my career unique ideas were coveted and encouraged. Today, we've found refuge as order takers. Today, by-and-large you give your customer what they like and what they like is what they know. If you sell them something new it's new to them... but guaranteed it is time tested on other clients. Our "tool kit" is old and the solution we retreaded and resold a thousand times likely no longer applies. Who among us has the discipline to create new tools? Edelman says they've created a lab just for that purpose. But who thinks that will ever be more than an aggregation function like Rubel's Micro Persuation? They are not going to make anything. They are going to collect stuff until that day comes when some company will pay them to experiment. If that experiment works, only then will they have a new tool.
7. Silly productization. We've devise cute names to make PR sound smarter and to make it easier for customers to buy. Brandshieldâ„¢ and i-Wiz, pure dee silly.
"Ogilvy IMpact makes these dreams a reality with a powerful suite of Internet monitoring, placement and marketing services that help build an effective online presence. Ogilvy IMpact brings the power of the Internet medium to traditional public relations campaigns." They are dreaming indeed.
And Edelman's "Me2Revolution"... that takes the cake. I imagine their booth at a Star Trek convention with bald post-adolescent kids sporting Spock ears and light sabers. If you want to be taken seriously, forget about trying to be cool among the kids.
8. Exclusivity. PR is very clubish. It is part of what we sell. A simple way to give something the perception of value is to throw up a gate.
Unfortunately, in the business of PR the pass is based on celebrity. Take celebrity blogger Steve Rubel. Take the celebrity away and what do you have? Not a lot.
See, not only does PR manufacture empty suits, they also recognize the value of shiny empty suits as new-business bait.
9. Confusion between a strategy and a tactic. Once upon a time, the way to judge that someone was a VP candidate in PR was if they essentially understood the difference between a strategy and a tactic. Today, it seems the upper management ranks have all but lost the ability to discern that. Well, let's put it this way, a "lot of stuff" (activity) is easier to use to justify a bill than having possibly accomplished one goal. What do you tell your client when you did not sell more of his dog food? Easy, "we worked really really hard and did a hell of a lot of stuff. That's worth something at twice the price."
10. Outmoded business model. Forget the financial aspects, the goal of PR was and still is essentially to influence a target audience. Now you're lucky to get their attention (see Economics of Attention). That puts PR in the essentially dishonest position of denying that we have ulterior motive. We do and we always will.
Until we address (fix) the real issues, we will always be reduced to a pseudo profession ironically in need of PR.
But that said, Sir Martin and a few others are lining their pockets so there is no reason to change. Also, mark your calendar, the Silver Anvil Awards Evening will be held on Thursday, June 8 at the Equitable Tower in New York City.
Die zehn FettnÃ¤pfchen der PR
Das Weblog StrumpetteÂ listet zehn fundamentale FehlerÂ der PR-Branche auf und Thomas KnÃ¼wer hat sie Ã¼bersetzt (und angereichert). Wir wollen das hier nicht wiederholen. Aber unterstreichen wollen wir schon: Punkt 2: “PR-Leute machen das, was i...
Tracked: Jun 07, 09:34
Press releases for human beings
Press releases are an enormous hoax. They’re written by people who pretend to be excited and received by people who pretend to be interested. It’s time for a change. Strumpette posted a really detailed and challenging critique of the PR in...
Weblog: Bad Language
Tracked: Jun 21, 13:52
Public relations: 'a pseudo-profession'
Read this outstanding piece by Amanda 'Strumpette' Chapel about what's systemically wrong with PR. She gives a Top-10 list of things fundamentally wrong with the PR business today, including the bait-and-switch (the pro who shows up for the pitch mee...
Tracked: Jun 22, 15:07
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Lots of good points here. One key one is that PR people often have low self-esteem about their jobs and that is precisely because they find themselves doing #3 on your list. It's fine to put a positive angle on a story, afterall, we all try and present our best sides in public, we comb our hair and wear pleasant clothes, and practice personal hygene. That's what corporations should do, put their best sides forward but not try to spin tales that aren't true, or are way out of line with our times. Helping companies tell compelling stories is what future PR professionals will do, and telling truthful stories makes for compelling stories. And makes for better job satisfaction too.
Ya forgot LOVEMARKS!!
All this being the case, some of which I agree with and some I do not, why do you, Amanda (all of you who are Amanda) stay in the biz?
What I most agree with is the lack of consulting and counseling going on. I have a big mouth, and I plan to run it to future clients on how to get it done.
why do the Amandas stay in the business? Well some of us take pride in helping a worthy cause, or client, succeed in gaining visibility -- leading to credibility, leadership, and/or revenue, among other things. Sadly enough, the industry has so many perception problems of its own that even clients seem to have a tough time evaluating whether they're getting value and results for their investment (from personal experience).
As a communicator, I find it hard to resist telling a great story that deserves to be heard. There are a lot of underdog companies and individuals out there doing the right thing who could use a spotlight or two. I try to put what professional talent I have to good use, regardless of whether or not I respect the majority of my industry colleagues.
#3 You are full of shit. That's whats wrong with PR. Since when do you get to choose your clients. I'm sorry but that's not how the business works, so take your Mother Teresa act elsewhere.
I left the agency PR world some four years ago actually. I have a small business and we provide a lot of other services -- PR isn't on our radar. However, I'm fortunate to have the opportunity and luxury of selecting clients as we come across interesting or worthy causes. Give me your email Raul, and I'd be glad to communicate one on one. Sounds like you're as exasperated as I was a few years back. I escaped before I was completely jaded.
I apparently did not get out in time.
#3 Sorry about that, maybe you are one of those really polite and nice people but your post especially in the context of this discussion sounded incredibly hollow and fake. All the best for your business.
Raises some interesting points, but can't help but think that the entire site needs a good dousing of vinegar! It's the best electronic representation of a 'massive chip on shoulder' I've seen for a very long time.
I get the sense that your experience is mainly with FMCG PR. I can't comment how accurate your reflection is, but I certainly have my doubts about the FMCG industry's ethics and it's ability to create wants and needs. Is it PR or the marketing/selling of unnecessary products that needs reflection?
Dishing the PR business seems pointless to me, other than you wanting to be controversial so that more people link through to this site. What's your motivation - saving clients, stopping people from entering the business, or improving the industry? If it's improvement you want - then start by taking responsibility and galvanising those that agree for the need for improvement. If it's more hits to your site, keep going and maybe reveal some more skin - it works for Britain's News of the World and Sun newspapers.
And as for good writing, one of the key aspects is to substantiate claims. I first learned to write press releases in big pharma - and the lesson I've never forgotten is that every claim must be substantiated at least once. I hope this practice continues for any writing, even blogging.
To make you blog an example of good writing, I suggest you go back and substantiate each of your claims with an independent reference. Oh, and correct spelling's also important. I think it's Hynes, not Hines.
Thanks for the opportunity to respond.
"It's the best electronic representation of a 'massive chip on shoulder' I've seen for a very long time."
Not a chip. Deep and honest revulsion for what the business has become.
"What's your motivation - saving clients, stopping people from entering the business, or improving the industry?"
All three. Absolutely.
"If it's improvement you want - then start by taking responsibility and galvanising those that agree for the need for improvement."
I think it's premature for that. Sorrell, Edelman, Hynes and friends currently hold that cards. They whistle status quo all the way to the bank. Presently, it's not safe to speak out against them... let alone organize.
Great post. Really thought-provoking. I bet thousands of PR professionals read it, nod and carry on regardless.
As a recipient of a million badly-written press releases, I couldn't agree more about the importance of good writing in PR. I've blogged about it a lot, both from a journalist's perspectve and now (poacher turned gamekeeper) as a marketing copywriter of sorts. I'm going to do another post tomorrow about and link back to this piece.
Thank you, Matthew. I look forward to your post.
I find your post exasperating, disheartening and challenging all at the same time.
Being a student, reading posts like this gives me heartburn. It creates an anxious ache in the back of my mind and I can't help but wonder if I'll be heading down the same path. I wonder if I'll be working on the dishonest and all-but-transparent Wal-Mart blogging campaign.
I don't have any answers for any of you or even myself. I don't know enough about the profession. I can only read as much as I can and try to keep in mind all things I learn from those with experience.
Even writing this comment is a risk. Some firm I apply to is going to Google my name and find my inner struggle with entering the profession.
All I know, for now, is that there is some value in what we do. Working for the company I do, I feel pride in providing communication and PR for its products and company message. They help teachers educate kids better and easier. Nothing wrong with that. Education is one of the most noble causes there is.
There is some value in what we do. I agree that the industry is controlled and conducted incorrectly. But it can be changed.
What I find interseting in this opinion is the absence of the word relationship. Lot of talk about the business of PR, but without relationships that's all it really is. I remember when I was on the agency side of the business a solid relationship got clients and ink. Relationships also got access to the community and the city.
I agree with the writing critique and with the ongoing desire to provide "value" when value has never been correctly defined or agreed upon.
This is terrific. I do think that there is a vast difference between large agencies and small P.R. firms (this really seems to be a large agency critique).
To me, this means opportunity, for those who are ethical, relationship-oriented P.R. practitioners.