The PR shock horror shock that shocked the nation this week relates to Cardew and Company’s £339,000 bill for so-called “external press support” for the Dome since its closure in September 2000.
This has attracted the wrath of people who like to express wrath over outrageous outrages but, from my point of view, such carping is completely unjustified.
Many people fail to understand that managing a PR account – even for a product that does nothing, goes nowhere and is so damaged in the public perception that damage limitation is redundant – is a highly intensive operation and, as such, a fee of third of a million quid is a mere bagatelle.
The only way to illustrate this is in a theoretical sense.
Let us assume a light bulb needs to be changed and we need to calculate how many PR executives will be required to fulfil that objective.
The answer is 28.
This may seem like an inordinate number but to think so is indicative of an imperfect understanding of the nature of the industry as practised by top-level exponents.
The quantitative breakdown and division of responsibilities is as follows:
One PR executive needs to hear on the grapevine that a light bulb will soon be changed; one will confirm the rumour; one will discover the light bulb being changed lasted a record length of time for bulbs of its type; and one will decide whether a media event is needed to celebrate the changing.
This represents the preparatory research phase.
It is then necessary to draft in one executive to calculate the number of people on whom the bulb has shone (including dignitaries, by name) and another to discover the replacement will last longer and cost less.
The next requirement is a PR to research online the history of light bulbs and prepare a white paper on the subject. Another will need to arrange a Light Bulbs Through the Years display at a prominent museum.
One PR will prepare a statistical analysis of the number of workers who could be affected by the change, and another will write a news release, two background features and update the factsheet.
So, on to the nuts and bolts of media placement.
One PR is needed to compile a media list of appropriate trade publications; one to suggest using a VNR or B-roll to reach broadcast media nationwide; one to schedule a press conference and/or media tour; one to write an invitation letter; and one to make follow-up calls.
One is required to prepare the press kits; one to develop a comprehensive Q&A to deflect any tough questions about light-bulb usage; one to handle arrangements for travel to and from events; one to handle news enquiries after the release goes out and another to rehearse the speakers.
Then, of course, there’s one to test the replacement bulb before the media arrive; one to get a spare in case something happens to the first bulb; one to hold the chair for the maintenance worker who will actually do the changing; one to write a “home town” news release about the maintenance worker; one to mail press kits to reporters who missed the event; one to prepare a report for top management explaining who attended and what the event accomplished; one to study how a similar event could be handled more efficiently in the future; and, finally, one to work out the hours involved and mail an invoice to the client.
If changing a key component in illumination technology demands this kind of input, then I think you’ll agree that a fee of £339,000 for handling the PR for an empty plastic tent is a laughably small sum.