Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why PR agencies should not guarantee media results

Sally Romano, founder and principal of Publicity Queen, has defended her offer to guarantee media results for clients in a letter to the editor of B&T Magazine (17 April).

She wants to remove the financial risk for clients and portrays those who don’t as defensive PR purists without any “brio”. Sally has certainly achieved some good publicity by challenging the established PR Code of Ethics and the professionalism of the PR industry.

To respond to Sally's letter, let me offer the following:

#1: Any agency can guarantee media results for clients. They buy an ad. It’s commonly called advertising (or advertorials).

#2: If a PR person guarantees the same outcome from a journalist interaction, it devalues the credibility and integrity of the journalist and the editorial they produce.

Let’s take Sally’s client X who wants some coverage on new product Y. Sally guarantees the result and pitches the story to a journalist who has written on that issue in the past. In receiving that pitch, the journalist must realise that Sally thinks she’s on a sure thing for a story on product Y (they read B&T, Sally).

I don’t know too many journalists who appreciate being known as a PR patsy so I’m not sure how that improves Sally’s relations with journalists. And if the journalist does write something on Sally’s client, irrespective of the news value, how will he or she be viewed by their colleagues. A sell out or simply a PR stooge?

They’re damned if they do and she’s damned if they don’t.

Sally, the editorial independence of journalists is critical to maintain the integrity of the news and is the underlying reason why people read their stories. That’s why PR people and the brands they represent are so keen to gain coverage through media relations.

As soon as you start guaranteeing results, the perception of independence breaks down and the news value of the editorial that is produced is no more than an ad. Media relations then turns into media buying.

What happens then Sally? Your guaranteed media relations puts you up against media buyers who can offer those 'ads' to your clients more cheaply, more often and in a better position. It's just not PR.

So if that means the PR industry lacks “brio”, then I’m happy to settle for “adagio” any day.

Yours sincerely,