Posted by an Honored Guest Thursday, July 26, 2007
Got our first responder to yesterday's PR Leader Challenge. It's bold. It's dead-on righteous. Frankly, it's totally exceeded our expectations and set a pretty aggressive pace for our C-Level peers. Joel Postman, EVP of Eastwick Communications submitted a piece titled "The Costcofication of Media."
Joel needs little introduction. He is presently the head of Emerging Media at Eastwick. Prior to Eastwick, Joel was director of executive communications for Hewlett-Packard’s Technology Solutions Group. And prior to that he led executive communications for Sun and was the primary speechwriter for Scott McNealy.
Here, Joel puts it all in perspective. In a little more than a thousand words, he totally captures the dynamics and drivers in today's PR marketplace. He calls it "a crisis of quality for clients." DAMN!
Without further ado... here's Joel:
The Costcofication of Media By Joel Postman
EVP, Emerging Media
As PRWeek reported earlier this month, a recent study found that a majority of 55 PR agencies surveyed “have competed with advertising and interactive agencies for social media campaigns, and occasionally, even for traditional PR functions.”
Consolidation is inevitable in all commerce. American consumers have discarded all notions of quality, product differentiation and brand allegiance. Consumer goods are purchased at Costco by families queuing up 10-deep with extra-large $350+ cartloads of clothing, food, furniture, electronics, camping gear, tires, "entertainment," and anything else for which the company has been able to make a profitable deal. It's easy to vilify Costco and Wal-Mart, but consumer preference for one-stop shopping and the lowest price are obviously key drivers in this.
And so goes the Costcofication of media. As corporate marketing budgets tighten, and internal communications staff is cut, and turned over to junior (read less expensive, more easily abused) people, it is inevitable that corporations will look to outsource more and more communications functions and projects to PR and advertising agencies and marketing firms. Giovanni Rodriguez terms it "a crisis of identity" for agencies. I would call it a crisis of quality for clients. The result is that many corporations have inadvertently chosen to do one-stop shopping for a cart full of generic, low-cost media.
Large corporations are becoming increasingly interested in "integrated communications" providers. (See Craig's List for a unique, modern definition of "provider.") Often this is advocated internally as a means to "more consistent messaging," and "more integrated planning." More often, though, the drive to reduce the number of communications services vendors is just that -- a vendor consolidation drive. From a business perspective, having fewer vendors, fewer points-of-contact, fewer budgets, and fewer P.O.s is a more visible and measurable goal than the success of any communications program. When a new CMO or VP of marketing comes into a company, one of the first things he or she can do to impress the CEO is to do a clean sweep of communications vendors, reducing accounting and management costs in a way that is much clearer to an MBA than any media coverage or web metrics report.
Messaging, writing and media relations, along with analyst relations, are at the core of the universe of things that PR agencies do very well. Better than anyone in fact. It's why we exist. And clients who understand the importance of these three things, pursue them, commit to them, budget for them, and listen to counsel, get results.
Radiating from this core are concentric rings of extended communications competencies that eventually creep beyond the reasonable expectations of what the typical PR agency can do well for its clients. The second ring might include social media, community building, e-mail marketing and web writing. The third ring, where things can begin to get a little dicey, might include direct mail, advertising, e-newsletters, trade show graphics, and corporate identity. Certainly within one agency or another, there are people of supreme competence in each of these areas. I am not speaking about the ability of any one particular agency to competently provide any or all of these services. I am making sweeping generalizations to which I have a high level of confidence that most PR professionals would agree.
Then there are the outer rings, those things that PR people are being called to dabble in, but which can be dangerously unrelated to the core capabilities of the agency. On a 16th century map, these rings would be marked "there be noxious gasses here." An ideal example of outer ring capabilities are Search Engine Optimization, Google Ad Sense, web metrics and all of the other inherently technical stuff that makes up behind-the-scenes web marketing.
We live in a world measured by clicks, pageviews, keywords and conversions. I know -- better page rankings = more ad dollars and more web site hits = leads and revenue. Hard to argue with. And harder still to ignore that clients want and need these services. But any company whose mission statement extols leads and revenue as primary business objectives, forgetting what it needs to offer the marketplace in order to generate that revenue, will ultimately fail.
One area in particular where agencies need to be diligent is SEO (Search Engine Optimization), which ought instead to be called GO (Google Optimization) because no one gives a damn about any other search engine. Unless the agency asserts its primary goal -- the production of clear, concise writing that helps clients tell compelling and relevant stories -- fully understanding the implications of SEO, and that improperly managed, it can be a distraction from that goal. The competent agency will manage the twin goals of good content and SEO in tandem by closely managing the SEO process and policing the output of SEO providers. The marginal agency will idly stand by while overzealous SEO specialists mangle their clients' content.
Ultimately, the decisions made by any agency as to what services they will offer to clients are made on the basis of a number of criteria, not the least of which is actual competence in those areas. And of course the well-intentioned agency wants to provide first-rate client service and a more integrated communications offering. But there are other drivers which are not always conducive to first-rate PR client service, like growth-for-growth's sake, account control without consideration of client needs, and the fear of losing a client when that big bad new marketing VP comes in to the client's organization, does a clean sweep, and sends out the RFP for an integrated communications provider.
The agencies that will survive are those that do not over-extend themselves, and who stay focused on those core PR capabilities: messaging, writing and media relations, and on those inner concentric rings wherein lie the additional services that a 21st century agency can, and ought to be able to provide. Good client counsel dictates that we speak up when clients are taking the wrong approach, or are focused on the wrong outcomes. As in all areas of what we offer our clients, we need to speak up and let them know which services are appropriate, given all the factors mentioned here. Otherwise, we run the risk of diluting the value we offer clients, which could ultimately lead to a death spiral for the industry.
Or as Detective Harry Callahan said, "a man's got to know his limitations."
First off, before we begin, a comment about the headline. This article was going to be titled: "How Richard is Single Handedly F-ing Up the PR Business." At little strong perhaps. Actually, no, it's not really. Richard Edelman, CEO of one of the largest PR firms in the world, is in full "leadership" mode trying to court the PR industry to change its very DNA. And the real scary part is that like lemmings, we're just following him! Arrgh.
Well, here's the latest. Last Thursday and Friday Edelman hosted The New Media Academic Summit 2007. The conference was billed as a gathering of "business leaders, academics, journalists, bloggers and communications professionals" brought together "to discuss the challenges facing universities in preparing the next generation of graduates."
Because the writing's on the wall. Like his counterparts in mainstream media and advertising, Richard wakes up with a start every night fearing that all this blogging crap is going to totally disintermediate him. He's convinced: either we become Craig's List or we get eaten by Craig's List.
So... he's out there beating the drum and evangelizing change, i.e. adapt or die. Just how radical is the change he proposes? Jay Rosen, Associate Professor and former chairman of the Department of Journalism NYU was the last panelist to speak. Ironically, he also happened to bring it all together and hit the nail on the head.
Bottom line: Richard is desperately trying to change our DNA. And the purpose of this event was/is obvious. If Richard can convince this crowd, together they'll rewrite the book... literally.
EDELMAN: "This is a time of great opportunity for public relations. We are now able to compete with other communications companies (advertising, promotion) which have historically had the primary seat at the table. Our big ideas are often the program’s central idea. We are also uniquely suited to the present environment, which depends on dialogue, trust and relationships."
INDUSTRY RESPONSE: No. Competing for Direct Marketing business is NOT a good thing no matter how much they are paying you Richard. It reduces us.
Also, we don't do things that rely on trust... we are paid to create and leverage trusted relationships. That's our job. We design and implement programs that deliver market influence to facilitate client objectives. And the ONLY reason we morally get away with it is because our initiatives are vetted through an independent media.
EDELMAN: "The role of the PR person must evolve from a pitching mentality to a listening/learning approach premised on conversations with reporters, bloggers, critics, analysts, employees, and myriad of client stakeholders."
INDUSTRY RESPONSE: No. We are not going to go from pitching an independent media... to direct unvetted unpoliced public manipulation. We are advocates in the court of public opinion. What you are proposing is a court without a judge. Minus the unfortunate fact that anarchy "feels good," it is NOT a business model.
EDELMAN: "The quality of the content we distribute must be high because it is increasingly used as primary source data, without the mediation process inherent in working with a reporter. We need to offer attribution, to give real depth of content and to check our sources, to ensure journalist-level quality."
INDUSTRY RESPONSE: No. At any given time you'll be compromising one or both. Again, you somehow think we can be responsible as both judge and advocate.
Secondly, in an industry that has almost entirely lost the craft of writing, do you really think we can vet our own content independently? That's just plainly preposterous.
EDELMAN: "There is no place in PR for spin. To be deemed a spinmeister is the ultimate insult. We are in the business of presenting reality, both to clients’ stakeholders but also to the client. We advise, develop strategy and listen, so that we help to shape that reality."
INDUSTRY RESPONSE: No. "Spin" is only when you do it badly or get caught. "Perception is reality," coined your father. We're in the business of creating and managing public perception. That's what we do.
We can't change our DNA. But if per chance Richard succeeds, what silly monster will he have created? This is, if we even survive at all.
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
Kathleen Durazo about A Measly $2.8 Million Goes Missing, Lawsuit Results Fri, Jul 31, 10:58:34 AM Ray Durazo (the founder) sold the company to Dan in 1999. He was not involved in any of this. He (and I) found out about the lawsuit in the LA Times. In addition to embezzling this m [...]