It was a quiet, friendly dinner with an industry analyst with no hidden agenda, no placement plan of attack. Simply an opportunity to get to know each other and understand how we could help his firm, him, and ultimately... our client.
He recounted his recent visit to a large, multi-division firm in the personal computer/consumer electronics industry.
His disdain for the PR people was a little too painfully apparent. He listed their shortcomings:
- He called them handlers, people who controlled and managed his meetings with one knowledgeable person after another barely contributing to the discussion of the technology, the applications, the future direction.
- When he asked the publicist directly about one product area's return rate, the individual looked him straight in the face and said that wasn't an issue. When he asked the executive in a competitive product area—within the same company—he was told the group's returns were running about 10%. "The little b***** knew it existed—or should have known—and he lied straight to my face," he said with disgust.
- He asked about the company's position on current industry standards; the individual didn't know about them or the company's involvement.
- He asked for a comparison of his firm's products with announcements from two leading competitors; he didn't know.
At a time when business and marketing strategy changes at the speed of light, and competitors, partners and customers have instant access to information, the days of the handler, the publicist, are numbered.
If a public relations person can't place himself/herself on equal ground with senior managers and their advisors, then what value to management do they provide?
Putting together a news release when told to do so, setting up an editor/analyst meeting when asked, is no way to earn a place at the management table.
Public relations people have to increasingly be comfortable with soft issues rather than hard facts. They have to be uncomfortable with themselves and their ability to control news. They have to be able to read, interpret, synthesize market changes and be an influence and a contributor in every aspect of the company, particularly marketing.
Marketing provides a rich opportunity today for public relations to demonstrate and prove its strategic and tactical value because professionals can—or should— be uniquely qualified.