The good, the bad and the ugly – the many faces of public relations

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

Partly because of the extensive online pictorial coverage we give to brand launches, and partly because of the imminent TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes, The Moodie Report is currently being inundated with product-focused press releases.

My in-box keeps bursting beyond its limits with scores of files, often accompanied by seven or eight images, cramming my e-mail system each day.

The Moodie Report has a sizable (and costly) reporting team supported by two people working constantly on images but frankly we would need to employ an editorial army to cope with the current influx and turn all contributions into stories.

We do our best but inevitably some prioritising has to happen. Fortunately that selection process is assisted by the attitude of some of the contributors, often as not sent in by Public Relations companies.

As a sector public relations probably enjoys a reputation roughly on par with real estate sales and hedge fund management (and even below journalism). It’s a pity because it is a necessary function and when practiced well can add value to the client, media and readership. When practiced badly, as is too often the case, it contributes nothing except to the client’s cost base.

The Moodie Report deals with scores of different PR executives – some in-house, most with agencies big and small. With one or two notable exceptions, the best exponents are in-house. Dubai Duty Free is a prime example. Its press releases are well-written and followed-up. Its executives know the difference between different media and their needs. While their brief is to maximise coverage for Dubai Duty Free (and ‘Dubai Inc’), it also looks for appropriate media coverage at the right times rather than just issuing press releases. And it looks to add value back to the media concerned. Top management are always available for background comment to enable a media title to give its own coverage individual flavour.

World Duty Free has also (recently) taken its PR in-house. The difference in results is like night and day. Gone are the daily cold calls or e-mails, usually to the wrong person in our company (and sometimes addressed to a journalist on another title), offering “stories” that were all about the agency trying to generate volume rather than the creation of value to the client or to our readers. In their place are carefully thought out opportunities; great access to senior executives; and a knowledge of the different needs (and styles) of different media.

Good public relations isn’t about issuing a non-stop barrage of press releases around the year. It’s not about announcing every airline listing for a brand. In our view over-exposure is as bad as under-exposure. Contrast the discreet approach of, say, Aelia, DFS, Dufry or Autogrill, which pick their moments to say anything but when they do makes sure it is worthwhile.

It’s the same on the brand front. Diageo Global Travel & Middle East (which uses a good agency – Kavanagh Communications – combined with media savvy in-house executives) focuses its releases on important stories that it knows will be actually read (an apparently obvious necessity that is beyond the reach of many PR companies). Then it backs up those releases with access to its key executives.

In the UK Lightfoot Communications manages Italian eyewear giant Luxottica’s account. Instead of simply encouraging its client to sign off press releases, it seeks creative and innovative opportunities in keeping with Luxottica’s reputation. The Moodie View – our popular on-line video streaming service – was the direct result of a Lightfoot Communications proposal, fine-tuned in a brainstorming lunch with The Moodie Report.

Those are the good examples. Let me give you some of the bad.

• The PR company that offered a major interview opportunity for an IAADFS show issue. Unbeknown to all titles concerned, the same executive was interviewed in four magazines. Value to the client? Or chronic overexposure?

• The PR agency that showers us with dozens of press releases on behalf of a burgeoning supplier client base but couldn’t even accompany them with a please or a thank you until prompted.

• The high-power US PR company who sends constant irrelevant releases about its beauty client’s US local market activity and then rings to complain that we haven’t featured them. “This call is to confirm that our release will appear in your Cannes issue,” its account manager told me this week afte demanding to speak to me on my press day. “This call is not,” I replied.

• The PR companies (who, wrongly in our view) also handle brand clients’ advertising budgets and who base their allocation decisions on how many of their often unnecessary press releases are being run rather than which titles are being read by the retailers.

• The big PR companies (plural) who win major accounts thanks to the suaveness of their senior executives and then abandon them to the attention of junior staff who struggle to cope with the most basic requirements of grammar and sentence construction.

• The European brand company that e-mailed over 30mb of images last month to accompany various press releases and kept re-sending them when they bounced back.

• The PR company who thinks writing a release on every listing a brand receives is vital information. It’s not – it makes the company look desperate.

• The US eyewear company that simply sends images and releases – no note, no please, no thank you. And therefore, in our case, no coverage.

• And worst of all, the brand companies who issue – and often pursue aggressively – frequent press releases then treat our (excellent) advertising sales people like some lower species or simply don’t return their calls or e-mails. Those same rude people forget that they are sales people themselves. Their press releases are now immediately deleted.

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  • And by the way, pl put a link to the main page on your Blog pages to redirect the user – this would help us a lot than hitting the browser and changing the link. Thank you.

  • Well Said, Martin.
    PR is a very delicate issue which could back-fire if not applied well. I hope your note will help some of those execs to rethink their PR strategy.