Friday, January 13, 2006

Former FT journalist takes PR to task

Many of you have probably read about the comments made by former Financial Times reporter Tom Foremski regarding the future of public relations.

As you can see from his post, Foremski predicts that the public relations industry will be thwarted in its efforts, thanks in part to technologies such as search engines that allow companies to take their messages directly to consumers. He goes on to say this ease of reaching these customers devalues both media outlets and public relations. Foremski also makes the claim that PR is only good for egos, and does nothing for sales.

Now, none of this is really surprising. As I've written before, there's always been an uneasy relationship between the PR and media industry. And I've also been the first to say that the PR industry is responsible for a lot of the hurdles it faces in its dealings with the media. I've long thought that too much attention is focused on the "sizzle" and not enough on the message. As many of you know, I come at this from the perspective of having been on the journalism side as well. I spent a considerable portion of my journalism careerwas gained at CNN -- not exactly a hinterland existence. As such, I know what it's liked to be pitched constantly, and with a lot of stuff that's just not interesting.

But I believe Foremski's assertions on PR contain many inaccuracies. First off, there are many people in the industry who have no connection to products whatsoever. I don't do any consumer PR, so I'm not worried about hyping a product that may or may not be here tomorrow. It's precisely because there are relatively few innovational products that I don't do consumer. Also, Foremski's way off when it talks about ROI. Public relations gives clients an opportunity to reach the audience that's most suited for them rather than throwing as much stuff at the wall as you can, and hoping some of it will stick. That gives PR a much better chance at advertising for driving sales and revenues if you're a business-to-business firm.

I have high regard for Tom's former colleagues at the FT. They're very good journalists and they also have been very pleasant to deal with. I always stress that PR pros have to do their part by taking top-level journalists only things that they may legitimately be interested in. I fully realize everybody has more information to consume in a day than there is time, and I try very hard not to contribute to that overflow.

But I am also very proud of the many stories that I have taken to media outlets, on such important topics as homeland security, immigration, law, and other important matters, that may not have gotten published or received as much attention were it not for my efforts. I fully believe that the ideas I take to reporters are worth reading about, and I believe my success in securing front-page placements for clients in the FT and other outlets prove that point.

I noticed on Tom's blog he says he regularly speaks to PR firms and other groups to enlighten them about the subject of blogging. It seems odd to me that he would take the time to address an industry that he claims in another breath to be, for all intents and purposes, dying.

I suspect Tom either is going a bit far to make his point or perhaps got swept up in sentiment that was evoked by past dealings with PR pros. And again, from being on the other side, I can certainly understand that. It was painful to hear a great many of the technology pitches from PR pros during the dot-com boom. But that in no way should tarnish the whole industry. It will evolve like any other market, with those that provide value flourishing and rising above those who do not.