Q: I was hired six weeks ago as the new PR director of a large
insurance company. So far, I love my job, but I am having trouble with
the PR agency that was retained before I started. The firm's ideas are
stale. The staff is inexperienced. I would love to dump them, but they
were only hired six months ago and I don't want to appear presumptuous.
What should I do?
Mr. L, Hartford, CT
A: Let's not get ahead of ourselves. You may be a hotshot, but I doubt
seriously that in six weeks you have mastered all the challenges that
come with your new job. Tis a wee bit early for you to roll in and start
catapulting agencies. If you don't agree with me, then you may be a bit
fuzzy on the correct procedure for starting a new senior role.
First, give yourself a few weeks to do a personal, informal audit of the
department's staff, vendors, media relationships and publications.
Next, set up a meeting with the CEO and keep your little mouth shut. Let
the CEO tell you what the company's priorities are and how PR fits into
the strategic plan. Then, and only then, can you start redesigning your
department, including agency relationships.
Q: I was assigned to work on an account last year for a new technology
product. At first, I was really excited. The product seemed innovative,
and the company had found an unexplored niche in the marketplace. But I
was wrong. The product is a dud. We are two months away from launch and
I know the trade press is going to rip us apart for trying to market
this piece of junk. How can I preserve my reputation with the media, and
keep my self-respect?
Ms. J, San Francisco
A: My poor dumpling. I know it galls you to promote the non-existent
merits of a useless product to your media contacts. Obviously you can't
offer up the press kit with one hand while keeping your fingers crossed
with the other.
But the press will forgive you if you don't hide. This is good advice
for your client as well, because the company stands to lose the most if
bad coverage now means all its subsequent products will be ignored.
When reporters call baying for blood, pick up the phone, smile and
answer all their questions as fully and frankly as possible. Convince
the company's executives to answer questions directly, no matter how
brutal. If you can pull this off, your reporter contacts will have more
respect for you and will trust that you won't leave them hanging when
they need answers.
Q: I went to journalism school but ended up working in PR. My journalist
friends make fun of my job, but I really like it. I have a lot of
responsibility, it is a really demanding career and I meet incredible
people. What should I say to my friends when they call me a "flack"?
Ms. B, New York
A: My, my, how very 5th grade! My advice would be to discard your
"journalist friends," along with the empty beer bottles and leaky ball
point pens that are so much a part of their trade. (Sorry, that was
wicked. No recess for me!)
Barring that, feel free to employ the wisdom of my grandfather Hugo, who
was a famed PR man in his native Canada. This pithy rejoinder withered
the rhetoric of many a sneering hack. "Yes I am a flack," Hugo would
"But you are an idiot. Don't come crying to me when everyone else
figures that out."
- Got a problem that no one else can help with? Try Pandora. E-mail her
at pandora@ prweek.com.