Last week Next Fifteen’s Tim Dyson blogged about “Why companies should use PR agencies,” echoing many of the points I had also raised last year (and which have been solid justifications all along, in good times and bad). In the comments of Tim’s post, he wryly noted, “funny how this issue keeps coming up.”
Except it’s not funny. And before you suggest that the issue wouldn’t be raised if PR had a better way to demonstrate ROI, let me assure you — it’s not about ROI.
Let me say that again: the reason PR agencies feel the need to continually justify their ROI has nothing to do with Return on Investment or other forms of measurement.
No, the reason that PR agencies must continually defend their value is because there are a lot of shitty PR people.
Look at the legal profession. “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” right? Yet lawyers are an important, valuable resource for those who have legitimate grievances. And for every lawyer that loses a case, there’s a winning attorney, too — so the legal profession has a built-in 50/50 track record of success. Any baseball fan will tell you, “batting .500” is pretty darned good.
Yet we hate lawyers, because there are a lot of shitty, ambulance-chasing attorneys out there, giving a bad name to the perfectly nice, helpful, talented professionals trying to earn a decent living as legal eagles.
It’s both better and worse for PR pros.
It’s better for us (i.e., we are not despised nearly so much as lawyers) because our role in society rarely leaves a lasting mark. PR pros are not going to impact case law, a.k.a. people’s lives, whereas a landmark legal case can have huge impacts on the populace.
It’s worse for PR in that any schmuck can call themselves a PR pro. At least lawyers need to pass the bar exam to join the ranks; there is no need for APR accreditation to join an agency. There is no enforceable code of ethics, either. So while PR’s rapscallions are less odious in terms of their ability to hurt people, they are also too easily minted, and have little incentive to mend their ways.
There are plenty of fantastic PR agencies whose clients rarely question the value they receive. Their clients know that their agency provides much-needed counsel, relationship-building expertise, and unique resources. But, most corporations get burned once or twice by bad agencies along the way. Similarly, members of the media and blogosphere are pummelled by bad pitches, which far outweigh the good.
Is it getting better for PR? I think so, actually. As I noted back in April 2007:
“(Thanks to Social Media), PR pros lose the luxury of working behind the scenes. More and more often, in these early days of the blogosphere, a bone-headed pitch will be instantly revealed/reviled. The crappy PR firms, the dialers-for-dollars, will get smart or get out. Those that remain will likely have faced up to the fact that more and more of their agency’s work will be disinfected by the sunlight.”
We are in an era now in which Public Relations is increasingly talked about as the core driver of Social Media — which as we know is a huge game changer for culture in general, and Marketing in particular. We couldn’t be reasonably expected to rise to this challenge if there weren’t enough good (or rehabilitated!) PR practitioners slogging their way — through smart & successful work — to improving our industry’s own reputation…
So maybe someday we’ll see fewer of these “justification” posts. Maybe.
Posted on: January 11, 2010 at 10:31 am By Todd Defren