Newsmaker: Deborah Meaden from Dragons' Den gets down to earth on PR

The TV investor who caused a stir about PR fee levels is a believer in the value of publicity.

Deborah Meaden: advocate for PR
Deborah Meaden: advocate for PR

Dragons' Den is sometimes criticised for turning business into entertainment. Deborah Meaden offers literal proof – after eight series on the BBC Two show she jumped into primetime on last year's season of Strictly Come Dancing.

But many in the industry took it seriously when Meaden opined in the current series of the Den that it was not worth a business spending any less than £3,000 per month on PR.

Palm PR agency director Liam Keogh held up her words as a shining standard, writing on the PRWeek blog how encouraging it was "to see a well-known and highly successful investor outside the industry acknowledge the worth of the service that PR provides and the need for it to be adequately resourced".

Those agencies that see Meaden as a cheerleader for fair fees will be pleased to hear Keogh’s view confirmed by one of the entrepreneurs she has funded.

Richard Ernest, who founded RemPods (a pop-up aid to help people with dementia to reminisce), says: "When it comes to PR, she has always been honest that you need to spend the money to get results and you need to have clear aims."

However, it is also fair to say that not all our readers have seen the £3,000 per month figure – which presumably registered with some of the programme’s three million viewers – as helpful.

Meaden confirms to PRWeek she did not mean it as a throwaway comment but is able to give a bit more context.

"I was talking about using a PR company to create a national campaign," she says.

"It is of course possible to spend less on targeted PR. I often take PR firms on a project basis but still need to allow them enough fee to create an impact."

Warming to the subject, she advises entrepreneurs: "While national campaigns can be expensive there are many ways to gain ‘free’ in-house PR by maintaining relationships with targeted publications and online sites.

"PR is a necessary part of all business and we do it every day in some shape or form, even though for many they do not recognise it as such."

Meaden is a rare blend of publicity-seeker and pragmatist, it appears.

"She always made time for publicity in her very busy schedule," says BBC publicist Chris McCluskey, who worked with her to promote this series of Dragons' Den.

"She recognised the importance of effective communication with the show’s audience, whether it was a cover shoot for a national magazine or interview with a local radio station."
 
Yet as well as doing the glitz she doles out some common sense about PR as a business tool: "Targets should be set, reporting should be regular and relationships managed as in any other part of a business."

Her enthusiasm has not stretched to adding a PR business to her investments, which include property, a franchise for Italian clothing brand Stefanel and a bingo concession at Butlins.

Asked why not, she offers the disappointingly diplomatic answer: "I would invest in any business I thought had market potential and a reason to be."

While it does not look like she is going to be the next Matthew Freud, she is still a great advocate for agencies to have.

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