Recently I was asked to take part in a fairly lengthy questionnaire
process about how much my consultancy spent on training, my attitudes to
various courses on offer, and my plans as an employer to increase the
company’s training budget over the next year.
There is nothing particularly odd about this except that it came at the
end of a week during which I had answered two similar questionnaires
from PR students, and received several mailings urging me to spend more
on this absolutely vital aspect of my business.
Now, as it happens I am a great believer in training, and my company
does invest in a wide range of courses and seminars for all of our
I also believe that PR consultancies should strive for the highest
standards in terms of strategic planning, quality of output and tangible
and measurable results.
However, during the same week in question I discovered what I had always
suspected - that many client companies are also in dire need of training
on how to brief a PR consultancy, how to evaluate what is presented to
them and how to evaluate the subsequent programme of activity.
This discovery came from dealing with a client looking for a PR company
to handle a brief. Sadly the standard of briefing on these ’new
business’ occasions is often very low, with little or no time given to
considering why the company is even considering PR, or what the
objectives of a PR programme should be.
So often the brief is along the deceptively challenging lines of ’ we’re
a leading edge company that’s going for growth, and we’re looking for a
really dynamic and creative agency that will raise our profile - they’ve
got to be really bright, creative, controversial and challenge our
When you start to question the prospect in any depth you find their
challenge is actually code for: ’We’re actually quite a safe, plodding
sort of company, and we want to stay much the same as we are. We want a
PR agency that will get us in the national media with safe, cosy stories
that won’t upset anyone, including our shareholders, owners or the board
of directors. Also the chairman wants to be seen in all the right
places, because he’s hoping for a knighthood next year’.
The other phrase to watch is: ’Our senior people are always willing to
be involved in a positive partnership and our MD is brilliant on TV’,
which in reality translates into: ’Our senior people only want to change
the press release to remove any news value. We won’t reveal figures and
our MD is terrified of even talking to the Wigan Weekly unless he has
all the questions beforehand and can see and vet all material before it
Obviously there are many clients who do understand the importance of PR
and its role within the overall strategy of an organisation, but sadly
this is not always the case.
Their expectations are often woefully out of touch with what is
reasonable, desirable or affordable and hence disappointment results.
From my experience the business-to-business sector has the least
experience of how PR works and how PR consultancies operate. As a
company we often spend much of our time educating clients as to the
basics of how a PR programme is put together, and what it can and can’t
do for them and their business.
As the millennium also brings with it the prospect of a leap year, I
suggest that all marketing and product managers spend that ’extra’ day
of their business lives learning about PR and how to brief a PR
consultancy - it could save them and us a lot of time and money.
Paul Vousden is chief executive at business-to-business agency, VLP.