Kate Nicholas: Call centre culture looms over PR industry

I hate call centres. It isn’t just the indescribable frustration of trying to find your way through the telephone labyrinth to a human voice. It’s the hint of factory-farm conditions and the certainty that the sales people are so remotely related to their product that knocking them off-script results in you being diverted to a manager.

I will probably receive an outraged missive from the Call Centre Association, but I am not alone in finding the concept of mass, heavily scripted customer service dehumanising. Which is why I nearly choked on my lunch when a senior industry contact suggested that one day, the more mundane media relations element of PR might be outsourced to call centres.

Now I have no doubt that there are some very professional call centres, and I have occasionally been pulled out of the shower to answer telemarketing calls from people who seemed to love their job. Call centres are also used effectively in crisis scenarios such as product recalls, when it is critical to convey a simple message clearly and quickly to a mass audience.

But isn't the relationship between the media and PR difficult enough without unleashing thousands of script-wielding telemarketers on unsuspecting journalists? Just imagine your own call centre experiences duplicated across national newsrooms: the endless hold as the journalist searches in vain for an answer to his question; the serial bombardment from call-centre staff asking if newsrooms have received an email press release. It makes me shudder.

But my contact was right, it might well happen. For years the PR
industry has been polarising, with the brightest lights shrugging off the more mundane work and concentrating on strategic corporate comms and reputation management. This is particularly true of some successful and respected consultancies, which outsource implementation to larger generalists with the critical mass necessary for such a task.

There is of course nothing wrong with such ambitions for the industry. The potential for comms experts to influence business and organisations in the 21st century is phenomenal, provided the industry can provide the raw material in terms of talented, experienced strategic thinkers.

But in this scenario – with PR professionals divested of the low-margin, high-overhead business of delivery, leaving them able to concentrate on the purity of strategic thinking – the question remains: where will the next generation of these thinkers come from – call centres?


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in