A new year, a new American President, a new sense of austerity and asperity pervading the world and yet still no sign that sections of the PR world are little more than spam-merchants, pumping out press releases at the mill without any thought or caution, any sense of building the brand.
Press releases promoting all sorts of tenuous fluff are churned out daily at these dark, satanic mills and the fog they create smothers the good, creative, insightful and careful work of the many of the conscientious publicity agencies out there. The real problem is that the general public and the press more often than not only see the fog from these press release mills and assume that this is what PR is – an unthinking, scattershot form of cold calling.
It’s been like this for a while now – the invention of email has made it possible for the emptiest of stories to clutter up the inboxes of media outlets and make the journalists responsible for sorting the wheat from the chaff tear out their hair in despair as they read ever more unnecessary copy – and, given that it’s cheap, it’s becoming ever more widespread.
This should be cause for reputable publicity houses to tear out their hair too – this sort of lazy publicity, perpetrated by clichéd perky, bubbly types who post off any old story to any old media outlet in the hope that it gets printed and follow it up with badly researched over-familiarity, is bad news for the business. Yet not enough is being done to curb it.
The trouble is, it doesn’t cost much for the client in the short term – but it is so ineffectual that it is a waste of money. A client is then less likely to go to a more reputable publicist, assuming that they’re going to be short-changed again. The real cost lies in the loss of respect for good publicity, the sense of ennui that builds in the people who have to deal with it daily.
A good press release should have an interesting story that relates positively to the brand or client and it should be targeted at the people it matters most to; if there is wider interest in the story, then it will spread naturally, putting out roots via word of mouth, through social networking and throughout the traditional media. There’s nothing wrong with perky and bubbly press officers, but the bubbles, if they are pricked, should contain something; such as good sense and careful planning.
PR is not and should never be a cold-calling business, plaguing people into agreeing to plug a brand. A relationship should be built between press officer and media outlet; one that allows them to be familiar and know what the outlet they have approached requires.
That relationship also needs to be preceded by a good understanding of the client or the brand the press officer is promoting. PR should be about promoting a good story that makes sense, that remains true to the source and that doesn’t just clutter up inboxes. Trying to sell trampolines by sending out press releases announcing that they are likely to fly around the garden in stormy weather, potentially causing “huge amounts of damage to gardens, property and potentially … serious injury if they hit a passer-by”, as one company did in 2008, is proof that there are too many press officers out there who do not recognise the need for brand integrity and who would be better off sending out emails offering to help “increase the size of your organ”.
Time for a change, I’d say. Let’s sideline the press release mills and leave room for the sort of PR that actually helps the client, the brand and the people it’s aimed at to make an informed decision.