Editorial: CNBC and Edelman deal has key flaws

The innovative contra deal announced this week between Edelman and CNBC is certainly eye-catching, but is it likely to provide tangible benefits for the PR company in the future? As we report this week, Edelman has agreed to do PR for the business broadcaster, which will, in return, produce and air TV ads for Edelman.

On the face of it, it seems a sweet deal. At a relatively low cost, Edelman will get undiluted access to one of the most crucial audiences for all business communicators - CEOs and chairman of major corporations, top-level decision makers all. Likewise, CNBC will pay nothing and give away airtime that, to start with, costs them nothing either.

But there are two significant drawbacks worth noting. First, there is a lack of accountability in the arrangement - there is no suggestion that the amount of airtime at Edelman's disposal is contingent on the performance of the PR team. A truly bold deal would deliver Edelman no exposure at all until the media mentions desired by CNBC have been achieved. It is easy to imagine how such a deal might be constructed: a snide comment in the Daily Express diary might see the Edelman spot aired at 4am in between the weather and the previous day's closing prices. A full-page hit in the Financial Times would see it put on a continuous loop for 24 hours.

The more fundamental flaw in the agreement, though, is contained within the manner in which it was organised - between Edelman Europe president and CEO David Brain and CNBC Europe comms director Charlotte Blenkinsop.

They are long-time former colleagues, and presumably wouldn't have struck the deal unless they trusted each other to deliver. In a people business, knowing and trusting the other side is critical. The truth is that captains of industry often hire key suppliers on the basis of that kind of knowledge, on a recommendation from the trusted investment banker they worked with on the last big deal, or after speaking with a loyal friend over lunch at the Savoy Grill. Since they don't tend to hire based on TV ads, it will take more than this to build the Edelman brand among business leaders.

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