A quick glance at any national newspaper will show that PR
consultants beaver away managing their clients' reputations so
diligently that their own corporate brand is often left to survive on
So who is PR-ing the PROs and what are they trying to achieve? Do
consultants really want front-page coverage and a public profile to
match that of Matthew Freud, or do they strive to remain the unseen
power behind the throne?
A random phone poll of the agencies in this year's table reveals that
most prefer to handle their personal reputations in-house. 'We have
recently taken on someone in New York who is solely dedicated to
handling our PR and ensuring that we take a proper global approach,'
says Emma Bowen-Davies, Weber Shandwick head of marketing, Europe. 'Too
often in the past our own PR got pushed to the back of the queue,
because we were so focused on our clients.'
Ogilvy PR Worldwide senior account manager Ben Ruse believes managing
your own PR is an important demonstration of skills for clients. 'We
handle our reputation in-house, because if we're a PR company, we should
be quite confident that we can do our own PR,' he says.
His consultancy has a rather ominously titled Visibility Committee,
which, in the UK, encourages practice heads to feed newsworthy items to
Ruse and his team for exploitation in the media and internal channels.
'We take visibility very seriously,' says Ruse. 'We throw significant
resources at it, in terms of time and money.'
To ensure that their own reputation gets a fair deal, almost all the
agencies who choose to PR themselves say they handle the business in a
similar wa y to that of their regular clients. 'It's easy to sweep your
own PR under the carpet, so we work it as a proper account,' says James
Wright, senior account executive at Leeds-based Sinclair Mason. 'That
means we have a team of three, time-allocation and a budget, covering
media relations, sponsorships, networking and community events.'
However, a small but significant number of consultancies favour
outsourcing their PR, calling on the talents of freelancers, niche
players or marketing sector specialists. 'It usually raises eyebrows,
but we decided to put our money where our mouth is,' says Tariq Khwaja,
UK managing director of August.One Communications which uses marketing
services specialist Eulogy!. 'We're constantly advising our clients not
to do their PR in-house, so we're practising what we preach,' he
Countrywide Porter Novelli UK developoment director Sally Ward agrees
about outsourcing. 'In our experience, clients always come first and
your own PR suffers,' she says. 'As someone else's client, your PR
becomes a priority.'
This approach amazes some in the industry, who reckon that outsourcing
such an integral part of the business is tantamount to professional
'How could we look clients in the eye and say 'we'll take your money,
but we don't trust ourselves to manage our own reputation'?' asks Clive
Booth, Lewis PR head of communications.
The outsourcers point to objectivity, momentum and sector expertise.
'We use a combination of internal and external resources because we want
to promote our flexible working culture and our strong research and
development skills,' says John Mahony, Edelman PR Worldwide UK managing
He adds: 'Invariably as a PR agency gets busy, its own campaigns get
forgotten and it loses that point of differentiation. But with a strong
external consultant, you've got somebody who is constantly working on
your behalf, no matter what.'
Then there are those who follow the textbook advice, that you should
always bring in external resources for repositioning purposes. 'As we're
on a path to move beyond PR to a much richer set of communications
consultancy skills, we feel that we have to give our own reputation
priority,' says Crispin Manners, CEO of technology specialist Kaizo.
Twelve months ago, as part of its development of a new methodology,
Kaizo brought in Beehive Marketing. 'After ten years of hiding our light
under a bushel, we knew we wouldn't give our own PR the time and
prominence ourselves, so we went out and hired somebody,' says
But the burning question is: how do PR folk shape up in the client
relationship stakes? Having been on the receiving end of some fairly
irrational client behaviour themselves, are PR firms heavenly to work
with, or even more demanding and exacting than the rest?
It will come as no surprise to discover that all of the hired help
PRWeek spoke to claimed that their PR clients are perfect angels. 'They
understand the possibilities and they understand the limitations,' says
Kathryn Coury director of Rock Communications, which works with CPN.
'There are no unrealistic expectations and because they're used to
formulating ideas and programmes for their own clients, they know what
they want,' she adds.
'It's great, because you've got a very informed client and you don't
have to constantly sell the benefits of PR,' says Sheena Horgan, Eulogy!
joint managing director. 'Because they're in the same industry, they
know what they're doing. I would describe August as focused, rather than
A more realistic picture is painted by the PR pundits themselves. 'I
think we're probably a complete nightmare, as we're ill-disciplined when
it comes to being a client,' says Manners.
Khwaja agrees: 'I think we can be extremely difficult,' he says. 'The
upside is that we're realistic about what can be achieved, but the
downside is we're probably harder for them to advise, because we know
But what if you are the in-house PR person wearing the reputation hat?
How do your colleagues make out as clients?
Most state that their work-mates are generally quite helpful. However,
Booth claims that while it is a joy to represent one of the best
companies in the PR industry, there are definite drawbacks. 'Instead of
having two or three client contacts I have a hundred,' he says. 'What's
worse is they all think they can do the PR for Lewis better than me.
Worse still, they probably can.'