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PR industry has own PR problem

August, 2013

Given that PR is all about developing and protecting reputations, why isn’t the industry bathed in glory? Andrew Metcalf, director at Kent PR agency Maxim, looks at the issues.

Public relations’ poor reputation isn’t a new issue, but it is one which constantly frustrates many in the industry, including the team at Maxim. How has the PR industry snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the reputation league table?

Could it be that it’s a case of the cobbler wearing the worst shoes, with the PR industry focusing on the reputational wellbeing of its clients, rather than its own? Or is it that there are some in the industry that simply aren’t up to the mark? Or is it an inherent prejudice against PR from some in the media, based on the misguided perception that all we do all day is get in their way and drink Bollinger?

Personally I think it’s a combination of all three. Unlike other professions, such as law or accountancy, PR isn’t regulated and therefore doesn't have a truly representative industry body focused on the quality of the service being delivered.

Equally everybody thinks it can’t be too difficult to write a press release, and all you need to set up in business is a computer, internet access and a media database. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

Poacher to gamekeeper

With the media continuing to make seasoned journalists redundant, many have turned from being poacher to gamekeeper and the world of PR. At Maxim we’ve successfully built a team, many of whom are former local and national journalists, but first and foremost, every single one of us is good at PR. As well as having a strong news sense and ability to write, we each understand the client’s agenda, are diplomatic and able to speak to clients and journalists alike.

I believe media attitudes to the role of the PR are softening, with more viewing them as allies, rather than a necessary evil or, worse still, the enemy. With fewer journalists, and more user-generated content being published by the media online, there’s a real danger that the quality of editorial will be undermined. Yet this is an opportunity for good PRs, and their clients, to provide strong, well-written, authoritative content that’s appropriate to the audience.

In addition to often over-promising and under-delivering for their clients, and the difficulty of measuring PR’s commercial value, another key reason why PR gets a bad reputation is because it frequently fails to focus on its other key customer – the media. Too many in the industry simply hit the send button and deluge hard-pressed journalists with poorly written and poorly targeted press releases. Or they try to sell in silly stunts or campaigns that simply irritate the journalist, or worse still do it when they are right on deadline.

Challenges ahead

The challenges facing the PR industry, especially for those in consumer PR, are much greater than its own poor perception. Much has been made of the demise of the PR industry, especially with the advent of social media, and the media industry’s adopting a digital first, rather than print, strategy to disseminating the news.

As an industry we must move with the times, but PR will remain an important marketing tool, as ultimately it’s all about communicating with potential and existing customers. In a 24/7 information world, everybody will want to know what’s going on, so the written word will remain, even if some people only want to read 140 characters at a time.

Andrew Metcalf - Director

Andrew Metcalf

Maxim / Director

posted in: advice, public relations, reputation management,

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