PR and the respect factor

April 6, 2009 at 5:17 pm 1 comment

Sally Saville Hodge

rdPublic relations has always been like the Rodney Dangerfield of the communications field. You know: We just don’t get any respect.

Our collective inferiority complex has been self-created, to a significant extent. The tendency by many in the profession to use overstatement and hype as their stock in trade hasn’t helped the cause. And high profile ethical lapses haven’t added any to the practice’s luster. (Remember Ketchum PR’s payment of $240,000 to minority radio broadcaster Armstrong Williams to tout on air and with his peers the No Child Left Behind program?)

That’s on the public side. Generally speaking, PR is low on the totem pole among business professionals as well. Never mind some of the more unfortunate associations that play down PR’s value. The term “free publicity” is emblematic.

I’ve always thought much of it related to how much of a budget PR commands and controls, particularly vis a vis the far weightier purse carried by Marcom and advertising. After all, money equals power, and it’s not unusual to see ad budgets of the big players in the millions of dollars – hundreds of millions, even. On the other hand, a million-dollar PR campaign is considered exceedingly healthy.

The irony is that for all the disrespect, and for whatever reason, it’s PR that really has the power to build a brand. For all of traditional media’s failings (and recent flailings, for that matter), it’s the news coverage that PR helps bring about that carries credibility, not the “they’ll say anything to make you buy” advertising messaging that’s so transparent to the public. And that’s only part of the powerful overall PR package.

We’re hearing more stories these days of some recession-hit businesses cutting their marketing budgets, but diverting more funds into PR programs instead. I don’t know that I’m ready to call it a trend, unfortunately. We just haven’t managed to do the job of convincing our partners in marketing (and higher up the food chain) that we can be more than simply masters of spin.

Or have we, but marketing leadership just can’t bring itself to respond accordingly?

Michael Dunn, Chairman of Prophet (full disclosure: a client since 2001) has just authored a book called The Marketing Accountability Imperative. It’s a heavy read, but a must-read for senior management. But apropos to this conversation, here’s a pullout worth thinking about:

    “Our 2007 senior marketer survey showed that B2B companies believe that public relations is the most effective activity for long-term brand building and the third most effective at driving short-term sales (after field sales activities and outbound marketing). No form of advertising came close to PR in its perceived long- or short-term effectiveness. Despite this, B2B marketers spend only about 1 percent of their budget on public relations and over 20 percent on advertising. The effectiveness of PR is also rated higher than advertising among B2C marketers and their contradictory spending relationships are even more pronounced.
    …[M]arketers’ behaviors seem somewhat puzzling – they do not believe that the marketing activities that they are spending the most on are the most effective, yet they are unwilling or unable to take the steps necessary to quantify this performance.

Puzzling, indeed.

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Entry filed under: Advertising, Agency Management, Books, Branding, Marketing Communications, Marketing Strategy, Media Relations, Public Relations, Resources, Trends.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. abbeylinville  |  April 6, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Sally,

    I agree with your thoughts on PR’s reputation in the professional world. Unfortunately, I feel it’s the same in academia. Where journalism majors receive praise for their articles and columns, PR majors are considered to be “masters of fluff,” “spinners” and my favorite, “inaccurate.” Yet we slave over the same stylistic writing, the same formatting and the same goal — to be published.

    Outside of journalism/mass communications studies, many make a mockery of the profession, putting it on the same level as a general studies degree. Maybe the misconceptions of the work that PR professionals do will change as the profession grows… hopefully it’s a change for the better.

    Reply

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