PR agencies are often courier companies

“The purpose of public relations activities is to care for a good image, acceptance, and kindness towards the activities of a given person or organization.” So much for theory. The practice is quite different.

The article by Krzysztof Rojek, a tech journalist, originally appeared on AntyWeb – a renowned Polish blog with 2,5 million unique users monthly.

In my (not very long, but still) career I have been lucky enough to work on both sides of the same barricade. On the one hand – as a PR person responsible for creating an appropriate image of companies that were the clients of the agency, and on the other – as a journalist/blogger for the tech portal.

While working in PR, I had the opportunity to talk to many journalists, both from the tech industry and many others. Now the tables have turned, and my main companions for work conversation are PR people who send press releases or interview proposals to my inbox.

And while I do not consider myself (and have never considered myself) any expert in the field of public relations and how a PR strategy should be built for a given brand, I have an overwhelming impression that working on both sides has allowed me to notice something that is one of quite important elements negatively affecting the area of media relations. Namely – PR companies could often be replaced by DHL and no one would notice.

Before explaining what I mean, I would like to point out one thing – I will not point my fingers at specific PR agencies here, because, all things considered, they are the least guilty of the phenomena I want to describe. People working there are often aware of what I am talking about and are just as irritated by it.

Okay, but what is it all about? Well, the point is that public relations services differ depending on the client we are dealing with. The main distinguishing factor is whether you are working with a “local” company, that is, established and run locally, or a local branch of a foreign enterprise. As the pages of Antyweb we most often talk about global, big brands, it is not surprising that we have contact with agencies that provide services to global clients much more regularly. And of course, there are many PR agencies and global companies that understand the idea of PR and show how it should be done well. However, I have the impression that for every such client there are two or three who contribute to the fact that public relations are held in such low esteem.

PR is not only about delivering press releases to journalists

PR abroad? Simple press release translation and dispatch do not work

From my experience in PR and conversations with some PR specialists, it is impossible not to get the impression that in the case of some (not to say – most) companies for which Poland [Editors note: or any given country] is just another market, the activity of a PR agency could as well be reduced to the role of… a courier company.

Why? Well, because if we are talking about large, global corporations, such an agency in Poland [or Italy / Hungary / Scandinavia / Benelux / Portugal] simply has nothing to say when it comes to any PR strategy planning. Because such a strategy has long been planned at the central level, all “creative” decisions have already been made and are only passed on for implementation. If we are talking about the technology market, the role of the PR agency is reduced to translating the press release from English and sending the new device to the media to be tested.

Unfortunately, such public relations strategy doesn’t work

The basis of public relations and what PR people are paid for is knowing how to “sell” a piece of given information to the world. How to create content that will get the attention of a specific audience. Depending on the needs, these are customers, employees, shareholders, or indirectly – journalists. And this group is different everywhere in the world.

In my life, I have experienced a situation in which a foreign client sent a ready (!) interview with one of the management board members with an order to translate it into the language of the local market and send it to the media, and then – provide the list of publications. I do not know how PR works in other countries, but in Poland, any attempt to perform such a procedure would end up with the agency not getting any publications anywhere, anytime, and on any further topics. And yet – such a demand appeared.

Working as a journalist, in turn, from time to time I see such press releases in my e-mail inbox – topics that have been provided by someone in advance, and which have nothing to do with our local market and readers’ interests. Whenever I get them, I am very sorry. Because I know that there is a PR person on the other side, who probably knows very well that a given topic will not “catch on”, but must work with it and, what is worse, will be held responsible for the effects.

The second, equally negative aspect of this way of PR treatment is that PR people are as far away from the product itself as possible. It can be seen very clearly if something goes wrong. Oh – the smartphone or laptop has a defect, and I want to ask if it is a matter of just my specific item, or maybe there is something I can do to fix it or find out where the fault comes from. Ideally, a PR person should be a product expert, know what he is talking to the media about and be able to answer such questions from journalists – after all, the image of the brand he represents depends on it. Meanwhile, probably the most common answer I get is:

“Hmmm… I don’t know…”

“We just send it.”

Dear companies – let PR people work

One of the very cool examples of how important local market knowledge is.

Starbucks’ failed copy-paste expansion

One of my favorites is Starbucks, which thought if its business strategy and menu worked in the US, it would work in Australia too. It was a mistake that cost the company $100 million and required almost all of its facilities to close in 2008. The Australian market was simply so different that copy/paste didn’t work.

For me, this is a very apt analogy to the media market in a given country. I do not know what is the reason for such an approach by global companies, which is to stick to the strategy invented at the headquarters and the materials created there. It even looks as if they did not trust the agency, doubted the competences of local PR specialists, or – they did not have enough time and willingness to actually pay attention to PR and verify ideas and materials on an ongoing basis.

Such PR will not work – even if it seems it does

After all, submitting the text for approval is faster and safer:

  • • “Some” publications will show.
  • • “Some” review will appear somewhere.
  • • “Something” can be entered in the report.
  • • AVE and reach may be added up, having nothing to do with the actual value of the publication, and the world will go on.

Common PR agency mistakes

Of course – the agencies themselves are not blameless either:

  • • Sending materials to journalists without first checking whether it is their topic at all,
  • • the lack of basic knowledge on the topic, or
  • • factual errors in the content – we can sum it all up with the words “Junior Account Executive”. Been there, done that.

Unfortunately, a cure for this disease has not yet been invented in the industry. On the one hand, for global companies, we are still too small a market for them to start worrying about. On the other hand, PR agencies, especially smaller ones, often do not have the position to “stand up” to the client. Because PR agencies can always be changed and there will always be one that will do what the client asks for without a word. And for smaller agencies, customer retention is one of the most important goals.

Therefore, as long as PR in a given country is perceived as a tool to implement global strategies, without evaluating whether this strategy is even valid at all, PR people will create press releases that will not interest anyone, journalists will receive them and reports will include publications with no value in building the brand image.

And then someone will ask again why PR has such a bad… PR.

Krzysztof Rojek
Krzysztof Rojek

Krzysztof Rojek is a tech journalist. He writes for Antyweb, covering topics such as smartphones, apps, cybersecurity, marketing and – occasionally – music. Previously, he used to work as a PR trainee, Junior, and Account Executive. Cat owner, hard rock, and heavy metal fan. His piece on PR companies acting as the courier companies was also published on the NowyMarketing industry portal.


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