Agony Uncle: Halving happiness, content marketing and a higher purpose?

The co-author of PR Today and Richmond University's professor of PR gives it to you straight.

Trevor Morris: our agony uncle answers your questions
Trevor Morris: our agony uncle answers your questions

Halving happiness?

Q: I’ve been told to halve the budget of our rather delightful PR consultancy. I depend on them a lot. How can I keep them motivated?

A: You sound like the perfect client. Not only do you think your consultancy is delightful, but you are worried about its motivation and money.

Foolish clients think that they must hassle and haggle with their consultancies to keep them on their toes. The reality is that nice clients like you are invariably the ones that get the best work and are over-serviced. PR people are sociable, usually likeable, financially naïve and puppyish in their keenness to please. So take the account team out for a jolly meal, tell them you still love them and see how little their motivation and effort changes when you mention the tawdry issue of money.

Not content with content marketing

Q: As a former journalist turned PR, I’ve been doing media relations work for years, but I hear more and more talk about content marketing. I’ve always known about advertorials, but what exactly is content marketing and should I feel threatened?

A: Content marketing is the latest term to be used by people who want to sell marketing communications services, but don’t want to use terms such as ‘advertising’, ‘public relations’ or ‘media relations’, which they fear have become a bit low rent.

According to the Content Marketing Institute: "Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

Apparently, the key word is ‘valuable’. This is what they believe differentiates content marketing from normal marketing… or advertising… or PR.

Clearly, clarity and copywriting skills are not part of the content marketing toolkit. I think you are safe for a good few years yet.

Does PR have a higher purpose?

Q: I enjoy my job as an advertising director in a medium-sized agency. But I have real trouble when people start asking me about the ‘higher purpose’ of my chosen industry. What is the social (not economic) function of PR?

A: Good question, and one best not answered with false claims to virtue. PR can serve any cause, good or bad. It is silly to pretend otherwise – although what constitutes a good or bad cause is usually a matter of opinion.

But, overall, PR is undoubtedly a force for good. It thrives in democracies; there is no need for it in North Korea. It is a symptom of freedom, choice, argument and debate.

Politics, business, NGOs, even the media all depend on PR to help communicate their policies, sell their products and promote their ideas and beliefs.

So asking if PR has a higher purpose is a bit like asking if food is good for society. Everyone needs it, although too much of certain kinds of PR may sometimes make us a bit sick. The ideal is a balanced diet of PR washed down with a free and independent media. The ideal may not always be achieved, but if you took away PR where would choice, debate and democracy be?

Got a problem? Contact Trevor at

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