It’s all Bullshit!

May 27, 2009

So my bullshit meter has been working overtime the past few weeks and I thought I’d take this opportunity to report my findings. There are 3 areas I’d like to address: PR and ROI, another PR agency, and a conversation with a graduating student from the UW School of Communication. First-up, PR and ROI.

Suddenly I cannot open my email without some newsletter directed at the PR community about how “now is the time to show ROI with PR”. Now? As opposed to what – the last 20 years when it wasn’t important? Are these people serious? Whether it’s the silly, simple minded people at PRSA, PRWeek or someone trying to sell a tracking service it is all ridiculous. Why, just because the economy is ailing, is it suddenly more important to show ROI than any other time? The answer is–it isn’t. The economy has nothing to do with delivering your clients great results. The economy should not drive a PR professional to work harder; that is fear driven nonsense and it’s not a sustainable business model. PR people should work really hard every day, regardless if the Dow closes up or down. We PR folk provide a valuable service that, if done right, should provide value to clients in good times and challenging times. Now is not the time to show ROI anymore than yesterday or tomorrow. The time to show ROI is the minute you shake hands and start working together. Or was Don Draper on Mad Men right when he said “you start losing the client the day you begin work!”

A former client – now retired enjoying his millions from stock options–asked me to check out a local (Seattle) PR firm for his friend’s start-up. I checked out their website tonight and it was the same old BS that most other firms spew out. It is the safe PR language that talks about partnering with clients to deliver blah blah blah blah blah–it’s all bullshit. Further this agency has a section about how many awards they have won, places they rank on revenue lists, and the little perks the team enjoys (free parking or something). Again I ask “who really cares?” – why do agencies spend time on this meaningless dribble? Clients don’t care, press certainly don’t care, and employees know it is BS because they see how much time and money is wasted on this stuff; yes it costs to apply for most of those awards! I suppose for competitive reasons I should celebrate that these lemmings say the same things, keep it nice and safe, and try oh-so hard not to have a strong opinion one way or another. But for the sake of the craft I cannot read that stuff and feel okay about it. Maybe something is wrong with me or I never read the What To Say When You Have A PR Firm Handbook; Chapter 1: use the word strategic and partnership when describing yourself. Chapter 2: have a section on your website full of press releases that no one cares about like how many square feet you occupy, awards you’ve won, or where you rank on a list. Geez it is no wonder so many people have a distain for PR people. PR agencies should not do PR for themselves; they should do it for their clients.

Last but not least my BS meter went into the red when I visited with a Senior, Joe, from the University of Washington last week and talked about what he had learned in his PR studies. I am a graduate of the UW and I love the school, but I must say I was sorely disappointed to hear PR students are largely learning PR circa 1984. Joe told me they focused heavily on writing press releases and brochures. I asked about pitching; nope. I asked about the use of social media; nope. What about dealing with clients; nope. Working with reporters and understanding deadlines? Nope. So press releases and brochures? Yes that was the bulk of the coursework. I’m going to check-in with my good friend Professor Kathleen Fern-Banks at the UW and get to the bottom of this. It seems that college students are less and less prepared for life in an agency or a corporate communications department. And one more thing for all of you aspiring grads; ditch the use of the word “like”. I cannot tell you how many candidates we have met with who are otherwise very likeable and seemingly smart folks, but it is all buried under “hundreds of likes”. Typical response goes something like this: I like want to be in PR because I’m like interested in what the media does and like it’s interesting how like you can write a press release and it can be in the newspaper. Like. 🙂

– Howie

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