The PR industry needs an independent marketing body to promote public
relations to major clients, argues David Longman
The PR industry has its priorities all wrong. What use is a charter
which describes the desired behaviour of PR consultancies when so many
prospective senior clients - the future lifeblood of the industry -
apparently have such a dim view of what our profession offers? Charters
mean bugger all when most PR consultancies are fighting to put a few
thousand pounds on the bottom line.
PR, as a marketing function, often seems to be lost between what the ad
agency, sales promotion and direct marketing company offer. Who is
explaining what PR is and what it does?
The answers to these points can be drawn from the success of the Radio
Advertising Bureau. The organisation has been a huge success in
presenting the case for radio advertising. It has remained independent
of the day-to-day radio sales negotiations and has sold the concept of
radio advertising to the marketing decision-makers. In three years,
national advertising revenue has more than doubled, and old perceptions
have changed substantially.
From my position of having been responsible for the overall public
relations of the Commercial Radio brand, I’m aware that the RAB has seen
a constant stream of visitors from other industries at its door. All
have been asking if the RAB’s efforts could be repeated and applied to
their industries. All, that is, except for public relations.
The PR industry needs professional marketing more than its colleagues in
press, posters, TV or cable. Sure, PR has the IPR and the PRCA, but they
have both failed to successfully address the single most important
issue: promoting what a PR company can do for a client.
My own move from the RAB to become director of marketing at the McCann-
Erickson advertising agency group shows that advertising agencies accept
the need for professional marketing. But how many public relations
companies or groups have a marketing director? In advertising agency
land the message seems to have been noted - and not before time. The
recent very public rows at Saatchi and Saatchi must have damaged the
industry as a whole.
Commercial Radio recognised the need for professional marketing. Sales
executives from the different stations weren’t expanding the cake -
just chasing the same slice. If PR is to grow as an industry, someone
has to focus on building its image and perception better than Joanna
I don’t for one moment suggest that such a marketing body for public
relations could be easy to fund, but if it was left alone to concentrate
on the job at hand, the results could be staggering. So who is going to
take up the baton?
It will take a strong individual who will need to be accepted by the
industry as a powerful figurehead - someone who is a proven achiever.
Above all he or she will need to be totally single-minded and not give
an inch when battered from all sides.
My dream ticket is Sir Bernard Ingham as the figurehead, while Colin
Kent of Key Communications (who has also been a senior client and run an
advertising agency) would be the powerhouse to make things happen.
Unless someone takes on the challenge, the PR industry will never truly
be taken seriously by the marketing, financial and managing directors in
David Longman is director of marketing at advertising agency McCann-