The problem with PR agency HR

Loren Pomerantz, a partner at PR agency Combined Forces, is performing what can only be described as a public PR service.  She’s writing a column over at MediaBistro that addresses some of the myths that surround PR.

In her first column she raises an issue close to my heart, namely why in the majority of PR agencies is media relations merely a stepping stone to senior management?

“The way it works in most agency settings is that the more senior you get the less contact you have with reporters and editors. These higher-level people�the ones with the intelligence and experience�spend most of their time managing staff, clients, budgets, and strategies.”

Now before you start giving out, I know a lot of agencies don’t follow this practice, but in my experience it is the norm.  I myself remember gazing up the organizational structure and longing for when I wouldn’t have to “do” media relations.

Now that I’m older and more boring, I realize I was mistaken.  Good media relations skills are a blessing. It’s not something to be given up for spreadsheets and meetings.  The ability to work closely with journalists serves many purposes, but first and foremost it means you have a connection with the coalface.

Good media relations should be cherished by PR companies, not used as boot camp training. I know this first hand, I went away and came back.  And I found I missed it.

JP Morgan Chase: Quote of the day

I couldn’t resist this quote from JP Morgan Chase on their SEC settlement over the Enron scandal. (Courtesy of the ever-dependable Corporate Babble):

 “JPMorgan Chase has neither admitted nor denied the SEC�s allegations, but has consented to the order sought by the SEC enjoining the company from future violations of the antifraud provisions of the securities laws and requiring it to pay a total of $135 million, consisting of $65 million of disgorgement of revenues, $5 million of interest, and $65 million of penalties.”

PR Boo

I have just finished reading boo hoo, the inside story on  You might remember them as the “urban fashion” dotcom that managed to burn through $185 million in under two years.

It’s written by Ernst Malmsten one of the co-founders and it’s a staggering read.

The founders, Ernst and Kajsa Leander, successfully founded and sold an online bookstore before venturing into the world of high fashion.

You have to give Ernst respect for putting the history in print, because he does not come out of this account with glory. Of course, it would be unfair to take the book out of context.  When you are reading it you have to remember back to the height of the dotcom madness.  A time when managing costs was for wimps.

The first thing you realize reading the book is that Ernst is a fashion snob. He spends a lot of the book commenting on the dress sense of advisors – I kid you not.

It’s like watching a trainwreck as you read mistake after mistake – one of my favorites is when they started evaluating new business lines BEFORE the site even went live!

But what was of most interest from a PR view was Ernst’s experience with PR.  He is the nightmare client.  He expects his agency to set up interviews with Vogue and every other leading fashion magazine even though they are unheard of.  After a meeting with his agency he makes the caustic comment that he would have been better off doing it himself. Sound familiar? Of course the nice part is he realises in hindsight, his agency did a fantastic job. And they did.

Its a little ironic that the Ernst Malmsten domain is actually owned by a disgruntled supplier.

Best dotcom trainwreck book I’ve read to date. And he needs the cash.

Other links:

  • Here’s the transcript of a talk Ernst gave post-Boo

Turkeys, Corporate Speak and Entrepreneurs…

 Adele Ravella over at has a good piece on removing marketing speech from your communications.  (Thanks to B2Blog for the link)

 Entrepreneur magazine – which has been promoting PR a lot recently – advises its readers to take PR seriously.

 The latest winner of the “Turkey voting for Christmas/Thanksgiving” award goes to Wally Roberts whose job was promoting and enhancing Barre’s (VT) central business district.  It’s reported that he has resigned after being quoted saying that Barre’s downtown was �dying slowly�.

Larry Weber takes to the weblog road

I have been catching up on my e-mail and after my post yesterday on the I-PR anti-blog discussions, I see there were even more negative posts yesterday. 

I really don’t understand PR people’s problems with blogs.  Get over it.  If you don’t think they matter, ignore them.  There are loads of clients who will benefit from your ignorance. (The discussion has even descended into “well blogs are just a web page”).

But it’s not all bad news.  Along with you, who by reading this are already participating in the blog world, Larry Weber, the driving force behind what is now Weber Shandwick [FLASH Warning] thinks that there’s some gold in them there hills.

In an interview in the Boston Herald, Larry unveils his plans for providing marketing services built around the new tools and techniques for reaching and building relationships with audiences.

He (Weber) talked about “viral communication,” or using virtual communities to spread a message. “That’s what blogging is,” Weber added, referring to the Web’s proliferation of open but focused bulletin boards called Web logs, or simply blogs, that anyone can use to post a message. “You really can’t underestimate that,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a consolidation of marketing,” Weber said, as enterprises seek better ways to use technology to reach target audiences.

Amen to that Larry.

Off topic: The Star Wars Kid

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Star Wars Kid.   Ghyslain Raza from Quebec, used his high school’s video camera to capture him undertaking a mock Jedi fight.  The only problem was he left the video in the camera.  His schoolmates uploaded the video on the web and like everything else on this medium it took off on a life of it’s own.

Ghyslain’s efforts have been put to music, had Star Wars sound effects added etc. They’re actually very funny. (You can see a host of these and the original here). But now the fun must stop.

Mr. and Mrs. Raza are suing the families of four classmates they accuse of maliciously turning their son into an object of mockery by uploading the files for a cool $225,000.

Blog stuff…

Before I disappeared for a week I mentioned a discussion taking place on the Adventive (now part of Up2Speed) I-PR mailing list on PR and blogging. As you’d expect I contributed my two cents on why blogging is important.  However, I was interested to read upon my return that a number of PR people think blogs are a fad and how they are busy enough already without worrying about something that will be gone in a year.

I have two comments on these views. As far as I am concerned, as a PR practitioner, it is my duty to understand and use all the tools available to me to promote my client. Ignoring potential opportunities is not a good reflection on our provision of a professional service.  Secondly, when a new magazine emerges, do we all sit back and wait to see if it survives into next year before targeting it?  I don’t think so. Blogging is simply a new application on an existing media (Internet).

Others blog-related news…

 Karlin Lillington has posted research from Blogcount that estimated there are over 3.4 million weblogs of which 1.6 million are live (i.e. updated regularly) – These statistics ignore some popular blogs such as those hosted on Radio and Moveable Type – but it’s interesting!

 Congratulations to Kevin Dugan whose PR weblog just had it’s first birthday!

 Michael O’Connor Clarke has moved his weblog to a new dedicated domain check it out.

The role of objectivity in Public Relations

Jim Horton (owner of Online-PR) continues to impress me with his weblog – it’s a triumph of content over form – it’s honest and objective and unlike charlatans like me, Jim actually writes about his opinions and trials and tribulations on a daily basis, he doesn’t just crop links.

Last week, Jim carried a series of observations regarding Objectivity and Public Relations and it’s well worth a read.  Interestingly one of his readers doesn’t agree with him.  Read it here.

“We can make great strides in building bridges to the media when we are honest with them and take the time to explain our positions objectively.  But it only takes a few jerks in PR to make it bad for all of us.  Pair that with poor training, and there is embarrassing  failure on the part of PR practitioners to practice the relations part of PR.  We’re too busy selling and spinning.”