City & Corporate: City PR is too like a sausage factory

A few days ago I gave a lunchtime speech to around 100 PR executives from City firms and financial agencies. We assembled at 12.45pm for sandwiches and fizzy water (with wine for the daring) then got down to business at 1pm. The food, my talk, questions and the vote of thanks were all out of the way by 2pm. But the room was empty by 2.05pm, bar two or three people.

Time was, not long ago, when no self-respecting PRO would leave a lunch table before 3pm - they would surely have had another drink, talked with colleagues, caught up with the gossip and exchanged views on the topics of the day. There are a few City PROs still like that, but most seem to lack confidence (either in themselves or their position) to do anything but return straight back to the office.

The value that a PRO adds comes from the understanding of a problem, advice, and the execution of a strategy; at least in part the ability to execute is helped by personal relationships and two-way trust with the media. But the more the industry grows, the fewer the individuals who rise to that standard and fulfil that role.

So much of PR these days is concerned with form rather than substance, and every agency merger adds to the trend. Management is rarely the strong suit of creative businesses, and the bigger PR firms get, the more they become obsessed with process rather than content. Process helps them manage their people and control the business. But process without judgement turns PR into a sausage factory.

By way of example, when I recently asked for confirmation that a certain CEO was about to stand down, the PR consultant claimed it was pure speculation.

Ten days later, the chief executive quit. I still wonder what that consultancy thinks it is paid for.

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