ANALYSIS: With coverage as skewed as this, we'll take the mediablackout, thank you very much

Ever since I started writing about PR, I've heard PR people complain about the short shrift given to our business in the mainstream media.

Ever since I started writing about PR, I've heard PR people complain about the short shrift given to our business in the mainstream media.

While many top-tier newspapers devote an entire section to the ad business, PR rarely rates a mention. (The explanation is obvious: Advertising people - rather, media buyers - spend lots of money with newspapers, while PR people spend none.)

To concerned PR people, I have a simple response: "Count your blessings.

The less coverage the mainstream media devotes to PR, the happier we'll be. Because when advertising or general business reporters set out to cover PR, the end result will be either inaccurate, unfair, or both.

Take a recent Wall Street Journal column entitled, "Buying PR Firms Backfires for the PR Industry.

There's no arguing with the facts of the story (declines in 2001 revenues, layoffs, the consolidation of accounts by top-tier clients), but the conclusions, and the headline in particular, are unsupported by the evidence unless you take the view that the people running communications holding companies are exceptionally dim.

The story contends, "For years, the world's largest advertising-agency holding companies have raced to acquire PR firms as an insurance policy of sorts,

the idea being that holding companies dominated by ad agencies were attracted to PR firms because they saw PR as countercyclical. If the argument for buying PR firms was that one-dimensional, they might as well have bought bill-collection companies. That's a pretty countercyclical business, after all.

It's ironic that the media, so quick to criticize managers and shareholders for taking a quarter-to-quarter view of corporate performance, would focus so much on short-term performance. All the long-term reasons why PR firms were acquired are just as valid today as when the deals were done.

They include the fact that corporate PR people can help advertising and other colleagues get closer to the CEO - a spot currently occupied by management consultants - and not just the brand manager; the ability to create best teams of PR and advertising - and corporate identity and direct - experts to provide truly media-neutral strategic solutions; the fragmentation of media; the resistance of younger consumers to overtly commercial messages; and the increased importance of credibility in communication - a quality that only PR, with its third-party endorsement model, can deliver.

There is nothing in the Journal story to justify the idea that buying PR firms "backfired,

and it's significant that the reporter found not one source - on or off the record - to support the notion that the holding companies regret their acquisitions.

As long as they are taking the long-term view, ad-agency holding companies should still count PR firms among the best investments they ever made.

Paul Holmes has spent the past 15 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management.

He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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