City & Corporate: City PRs and hacks stick to formulae

It is a mantra of business that to achieve efficiency you need to simplify, standardise and automate. Complexity and variety require a high quality of employee - someone who has the knowledge and experience to apply judgement and initiative, whereas once things are standardised you can get by with lower-quality human capital, as they say in business schools. So the trick is to make sure that there is nothing exceptional in the business process, nothing which deviates from the norm - because that gets in the way of smooth operations and costs time and money to handle.

Friends tell me that this is what has happened in financial PR. The business has become standardised, simplified and commoditised. There is a formula for publicising a set of results, a board appointment, a resignation, the launch of a product, a profit forecast - even mergers and takeovers.

So when a company wants an announcement sent out, it gets a template from its PRO or agency and merely fills in the names and numbers: thought and advice are superfluous.

This only happened because journalists allowed it - proving that it is not just PR that has been commoditised. On the financial desks of newspapers, including the Financial Times, much of the content on results and routine announcements is written to formula. Journalists don't delve like they used to, which plays into the hands of commoditised PR: there is no need for PR executives to give much thought to what is sent out when they are not going to get any questions.

Why don't journalists delve? There are the standard excuses such as the amount of space they have to fill to tight deadlines, which does not permit them the luxury of time (or, indeed, thought). There is also the reality that journalists are not trained with the thoroughness they used to get on local newspapers.

I suspect the real reason is the dispersal of newspapers from Fleet Street and the decline of the press conference as a way of dispensing information.

It means journalists meet their friends and rivals from other papers far less frequently, so the peer pressure has gone. Without it, some of the hunger has also waned.

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