“Why I’m quitting PR” – 3 years on, has anything changed?

By on Thursday, October 1, 2015

Some of you might remember this piece: “Why I’m quitting PR” – an anonymous parting shot. It resonated with many readers, with comments, tweets and emails flooding in, in agreement.

I’m more optimistic than my friend about PR on the whole, but I stand by what I said last time – all people working in PR anywhere in the world – and students hoping to work in the any field of marketing – should read this.

Nearly three years on, I asked her if she’d be interested in addressing the points made, to see if in that time anything had changed enough to entice her back.

Why I’m quitting PR – 3 years on

i-quitNearly three years on from my ‘Why I’m quitting PR’ diatribe, I thought it might be instructive take a look and see whether any of my complaints have been addressed, and whether the industry’s moved on to a point which might tempt me back…

But first, some disclosure – I left the agency job, this much is true, but the communications industry still pays the bulk of my wages. Whilst I may not do PR any more, I still work for an agency – albeit in an operational role, and on a 2 day week.

What can I say? The lure of the day rate was too great to ignore, and the money from doing something which bores me to tears in an industry which I disdain allows me to pursue the other things I find fun but which will never pay me a living big city wage. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe it does, but it still feels marginally less hypocritical than actually pretending to care about PR for 5 days a week. So it goes.

Reading back over my 2012 post, it’s striking to see how little has changed.

I’ll take each point I made in turn:

1. The client is always right

My point about agencies being too scared to challenge orthodoxies which, whilst wrong-headed, guarantee fee income? Check that box! Whilst I do my couple of days a week at an agency with the clout to advise CEOs directly, the fact remains that I am still confronted on a daily basis with examples of clients demanding videos of their boring announcements, press releases for their non-news, Twitter accounts that no one will ever care about…just like in 2012.

The only difference now is that there’s a slightly desperate and shrill edge to this due to increased competition between agencies of different stripes all fighting to do the pointless shovelwork which clients love, no one else cares about but which keeps the financials ticking over. It’s still upsettingly rare to find an agency with the chutzpah to say to a client “Actually, doing what you are suggesting is a waste of our time and your money; here are the reasons why. If you are so concerned with employing ‘expert counsel’ to advise you, perhaps take a moment to listen to that expert counsel which you are spending all that money on”.

Go on, try that line tomorrow – it may lose you the account but I guarantee you will feel better about yourself and your industry.

2. Facebook

For Facebook, read “Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and whatever this week’s version of Ello is”. Or even “Content”. I really want to find the person who popularised the phrase “content is king” and treat them to a papercut massage followed by a relaxing lemonjuice rubdown; it’s thanks to this phrase that PRs now think of themselves as ‘storytellers’ (you are not storytellers; if you are, your stories are terrible and you should perhaps consider retraining), and clients think of themselves as ‘publishers’, and every single tedious brand or company or initiative absolutely NEEDS to have videos and photos and blogposts and tweets and images and infographics (oh don’t get me started on the infographic – that thing you’re calling an infographic? It’s not, I am sorry to inform you, an infographic) and presences on every platform, because there’s simply not enough stuff on the internet as it is, is there?

The simple fact is that this insistence on ‘content’ is bad for the internet – more ‘stuff’ that no one needs or wants which no one will ever look at – bad for clients – noise, after all, is not cut-through – and bad for PR agencies, because nothing says ‘poorly thought through campaign’ like a bunch of tumbleweed rolling around your clients’ videos and tweets and blogposts. PR agencies need to stop competing with ad agencies and digital creative agencies here; after all, the margins on most of this content stuff are horrid, and there’s far more value in selling the why than enacting the how.

3. Celebrity

For celebrity, read ‘Influencers’ – any of you been asked to drop an ‘influencers’ element into your campaigns recently? Of course you have! Challenging  ‘viral’ and ‘content’ as the idiot client’s buzzword of choice, influencer marketing is a great deal for the YouTubers and bloggers who are able to command a fee for telling a whole bunch of people that a thing is good; it’s less good, though, for the clients and brands shelling out for the privilege of  getting those endorsements. Do you know how you’re tracking the value of that spend? No, of course not! But who cares! There’s a smooth-faced vlogger in their late teens with a few million subs spending all of 30 seconds talking about YOUR product, so it has to be good, right? Right?

4. Po-faced seriousness

Nope. Still as present as ever.

5. Strategy

As for ‘strategy’, this isn’t going to change, ever, however much I rail about it, so I’m resigned to that still being the case.

Add to the above, though, a whole host of new horrors that have infected the industry – data as a buzzword, the continued reliance on the survey, the fact that we are STILL floating things down the Thames, the fact that I still see AVE and OTS used as a metric, the fact that I am being confronted more and more often by junior staff who are not only borderline illiterate but who, despite their self-professed status as ‘Millennials’ and ‘Digital natives’ appear to be incapable of thinking of digital channels outside of their own personal sphere of usage (my sweets, the mere fact that you use Instagram and Whatsapp? in a certain fashion is of vanishingly small interest or relevance to any brand seeking to communicate with anyone who isn’t you – you are not, much though the world and the web may have taught you otherwise, the ur-example of online behaviour), the fact that ‘digital’ is still considered a separate thing, the fact that ‘no silos’ is still trumpeted on every single agency website as a unique mark of quality or differentiation, the fact that the industry continues to reward longevity with promotion and remuneration, meaning there are people at Associate level in agencies across the land who are not only borderline incompetent but actually stupid (this is something PR is almost uniquely guilty of – the same doesn’t seem to be true of the advertising or marketing disciplines)…. I could go on, but you get the gist.

So the upshot of this is that whilst I may be earning my coin from a comms agency, I have no intention of ever actually doing PR again. In fact, perhaps I’ll take November and December off.

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