COMMENT: PLATFORM; How PR can secure its place at the top table

PR should concentrate on calling the shots if it is to take its place as the leader of integrated communications, says Matt Fearnley

PR should concentrate on calling the shots if it is to take its place as

the leader of integrated communications, says Matt Fearnley

Good old Maslow. His ‘hierarchy of needs’ has kept management

consultants and research companies in fat fees for years. For the

uninitiated, he said people have five kinds of needs they must satisfy

and these become increasingly complex. Simple idea, but it’s behind

millions of pounds worth of segmentation studies.

But what about PR? We’ve missed out a bit here. Is it just me or do we

get hung up about media evaluation once someone has defined an audience

for us? We don’t much get around to defining the market segments


The client says ‘this is who I’d like you to reach’ and PR people

dutifully go off and put together a plan of which media will reach those

people and a range of tactics which will get the client’s message into

that media.

Fine as it stands. However, if we are serious when we moan about not

being a lead - let alone the lead - partner in the new look int egrated

communications of the 1990s and beyond, we need to be part of the

process earlier, asking key questions rather than just accepting someone

else’s answers.

What about Pepsi and Freud Communications? I’m not having a go at Freud.

As the UK’s fastest growing agency for the last five years, according to

PR Week, I couldn’t if I wanted to. And had Pepsi knocked on my door

dangling six million quid and said ‘put us on the public agenda’, I’d

have probably had their arm off.

But in the context of the marketplace, perhaps the most relevant

question wasn’t ‘how shall we get over Pepsi equals blue equals

different?’ As the 0.1 per cent increase in sales according to Nielsen

shows, the real question was ‘is pointing out at change in the colour of

the can going to increase market share and sales enough to justify the

cost of the campaign?’

Sure it’s the client’s call - but shouldn’t PR be in on it?

Then there’s Live TV. News Bunny and topless darts have ensured Live TV

lives in the pages of Her Majesty’s press. But no-one’s watching it. The

1995 Independent Television Commission/Continental Research cable

viewing survey failed to record an audience.

No amount of good PR is going to push a competitively disadvantaged

(that’s PC for crap) product. Wasn’t the right question to ask ‘is our

product good enough to shout about yet?’ rather than ‘how can we shout

about it?’

If, as an industry, we’re uncomfortable with asking the right questions

and instead, like to get on with using other people’s answers to make

people and things famous, then we should be big enough to accept this -

and our resultant place about midway up the marketing services pecking


But if we want to be players we should concentrate on getting the

questions right at the outset. PR has never had such a good chance to

muscle in on the lucrative territory of advertising strategists and

management consultants.

And the really good news is that the PR business has never had such a

long queue of potentially excellent young people beating a path to its

door. They want to be players and they’ve got opinions on how to change

the business. The PR industry can be a master of its own destiny. Which

is a lot more than you can say for most industries nowadays.

Matt Fearnley is a director of Larkspur Communications

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