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Most PR Efforts are a Waste of Time ... Money ... Energy

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

It's too bad that so many computer and communications firms waste so much money on public relations activities that have little or no impact on the press or, more importantly, on their prospective customers.

One of the key reasons these activities fail is that management lets their in-house staff or an outside agency handle the company's PR without management's direct involvement.

Another reason most efforts are a wasteful is that too often, the people doing the writing of the releases and/or articles would have a hard time writing a ransom note, let alone something an editor and/or his or her readers would want to spend any time reading.

Most heads of companies feel that they can "assign" their public relations activities to someone. Then, when they are completed, the managers wonder why the PR activities don't reflect their views and directions.

Public relations starts with management, and it ends with management. The people who "do things in between" merely facilitate management's messages. The PR person's job is to take a few statements and thoughts and put them into a form that makes the corporate managers sound knowledgeable and professional.  As far as the company's public is concerned, the visible activities are all a direct reflection on management.

We once told a company president that we would be happy to help him carry out his public relations program, but that since he was responsible for directing, guiding and projecting the company to the outside world, the success or failure of the program was really up to him.

No public relations staff or agency can assume that responsibility. They can only make it easier for management to communicate internally and externally -- which aids in achieving the company's goals.

Today's Images

Lee Iacocca did something in the automotive industry that hasn't been done since Henry Ford. He humanized Chrysler Corporation. Very few people can put a name and face with General Motors, Ford, Toyota or Honda.  But you could identify a name and face with Chrysler.

Bill Gates knows one of his key jobs is the proper projection, internally and externally, at Microsoft.  Lou Gerstner at IBM takes a very active role in the company's PR  activities.  Al Shugart was Seagate to the world, but today can you visualize Seagate?

These key executives realize the importance of their roles as spokespersons for their companies and industries. Putting themselves in the public eye isn't a matter of ego.  These people know that they have a responsibility to their shareholders, suppliers, employees and customers. They must present a strong, consistent image of the company--in good times and in bad.

If they didn't take their jobs seriously, their companies would blend into the background along with the hundreds of other firms you have difficulty recalling.

These people make a PR person's job 150 percent easier.

PR Person's Job

It's not that management doesn't need an internal,  external or combination PR team.  Professionals are needed to present the company to editors/reporters; write technical and user articles; develop corporate, technical, product and applications backgrounders; set up press meetings, hospitality suites and other activities; as well as handle routine queries from the press.  It's their job to help humanize the company to both the press and prospective customers.

 Communication is generally carried out with the written word, so it is important that the individual doing the PR is able to string words and sentences together into a clear, concise and intelligent concept.

 Liking people is not a main prerequisite for the job. But being able to interpret what people say is important.

 People outside the organization determine how the company, its products and its image are perceived.  People inside the organization determine the quality of the projected image of the company and its products.

PR people have to interpret the messages of both groups.

Pivotal Person

Even though the PR person is interpreting the messages of many groups, it is the management team that the PR person is reflecting and presenting.

The president of a company can equate himself to a  precious gem.  The PR person's job is to bring the gem out of the vault and present it in the proper light and setting.

It's his or her job to prepare the audience for the president, properly present him or her, and then carry out the nuts and bolts of the job by providing editors with the material they need for their article and/or interview.

Without that precious gem (or president), no PR person is going to sell the company and/or its products to the media.  If the boss is only paste, then it follows that the company and products are also paste.  No amount of PR effort or rhetoric is going to make a difference.

As a result, PR people have to spend much of their time properly preparing management for their meetings with the press. And they have to know how to support both management and the press.

Anyone who says that they do it differently and that they can completely remove management's responsibilities is only blowing smoke.  And any president who believes that a solid communications program can work without his or her involvement is wasting precious time, money and opportunity.

© Copyright 1999, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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