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Rebuttal: PR is More Than Cocaine and Hookers (Most of the Time)

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Leela Cosgrove’s most recent exercise in ‘rabble rousing’ caused quite a stir on the interwebs, prompting several unsolicited (and solicited) rebuttals. On behalf of the dismayed and outraged, we bring you a response from Espresso Communications’ Corrie McLeod.

I did enjoy reading ‘Why PR is a pointless waste of time’ by Leela Cosgrove. Everyone loves a smash and grab headline, and it’s always a welcome distraction from the daily grind of a pointless job. A lot of the argument in the post is centered around ROI and uses the central example of Cosgrove’s appearance in a recent Herald Sun article about what women want, or tattoos, or something. The point, as I understood it, was that the article didn’t end up being what was expected and didn’t end up driving business value. Go figure.

‘But this is typical of how PR works out… you get pitched one thing, another thing happens… you generate no business from it… and then wonder why you spent all that time and money trying to get it in the first place.’

I don’t think that a one off inclusion in a general article that’s unrelated to one’s business is the ideal test of whether PR has value. As a communications practitioner I’m used to the broad strokes of opinion that are applied to my profession and usually I’m happy to let them sail past. I know what we do, and thankfully so do our clients, but given the ballsy approach in this piece (i.e. suggesting agencies spend client budget on cocaine and hookers!) it’s probably worth pointing out some other aspects of PR that should be considered.

Many Anthill readers are entrepreneurs in the process of building companies. Growing companies need cash, and as we know in our market, VC or angel investors are hard to come by. How do you stand apart from the pack? Well, a good media relations strategy can certainly help. Editors and journalists are naturally a savvy and cynical lot, and coverage of a company that has passed through this ‘editorial filter’ inevitably has a lot more credibility than a company that nobody has ever heard of.

So say, this small company attracts funding and grows up to be a bigger company, and is vying for the best skills in a competitive market. Luckily they have good PR, because they have a consistent media profile that demonstrates that they are entrepreneurial, flexible and, all in all, a good place work. If you want to talk about ROI, try to find skills in a tight job market and consider those pesky recruiter fees. A couple of good hires will pay for a few grams of cocaine right there.

This company continues to grow and goes on to list on the ASX. Again, public relations – or communications as we might call it here – is an important function that assists the company communicate with shareholders and prospective shareholders. If you want to talk ROI, consider analysis from Precise Business Decisions that shows that PR represents one quarter of the controllable factors driving share price movement. Hum de dum – bring on the hookers!

The thing that has enabled this company to grow is that it sells products. It’s ironic that Cosgrove’s post appeared on the same day as Crikey’s Over Half Your News is Spin piece. While the figures in this study show that between 55 and 70 per cent of news is PR generated, I would argue that the percentage of product coverage that is PR generated is much, much higher.

‘Add value. Be a real human being.’ It sounds simple, and it probably is if you’re a one woman band flogging a set of steak knives. But what if you are an organisation with a small army of people who actually speak to customers each day? Management may have decided to ‘Add Value etc etc’ but how does the customer know? Through the employee of course, and they in turn know this because they have good internal communications.

And finally, what happens when the company has an issue that needs careful management? Well yes – they call us. Every company has challenges, some are deserved, and some aren’t, but good PR can help to mitigate the damage to the business and in this case ROI is measured by what you don’t read.

I’m not going to rubbish Cosgrove’s suggestion that Direct Response Marketing is more effective to reach key demographics. Hell, I don’t even know what it is. But I’ll do her a deal; I’ll keep my opinions off her ‘information product specialist’ patch, if she keeps hers off mine.

Corrie McLeod is the Managing Director of Espresso Communications a consultancy that provides its services to publicly listed Australian and global companies, not-for-profit organisations and new ventures. If you would like to speak to Corrie about PR, contact [email protected]. She promises not to blow your budget on cocaine and hookers. You can follow her on twitter @espressocomms.

Photo: sub_lime79

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