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
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
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
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
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