Freelance writer and Independent public relations practitioner - based in Chennai, India. Writes on a spectrum of contemporary issues, news, and just about anything. Offers writer-in-a-box solutions... can be reached at email@example.com
The title may sound so basic and rudimentary – but as an agency who predominantly handle a host of mid-sized clients across the spectrum of the industry, this is so important in our sales pitch.
Many prospects ignore our mails or introduction letters, just because they can’t fathom where exactly PR falls in the grand scheme of the marketing function. So much so that in the midst of many pitches we get confronted by an innocuous – but, we have so many business inquiries from our advertisements already, so, we may not need you.
So, we decided to come out with a cheat sheet to illustrate what exactly is the role of the various agencies that come to pitch in the marketing function.
Here is what we made – feel free to make use of it with any value add in content.
Off-late, when we feel that there could be ambiguity in the prospects mind as to what our role is, we send out a mail with this cheat-sheet.
In the process, we educate the customer, and also if not we, some other agency can see the benefit of this exercise.
PS – in case the image is not clear, and you would like to have a copy of the sheet, happy to help – please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
While most clients do agree with the broad strategy and plan to execute a public relations plan, there are some instances when the going gets tough for a PR agency. These are specific instances where the client side representative givens in to the top leadership of the company (mostly the Managing Director or CEO), and commits to something completely unworkable in terms of results.
Picture this – we as an agency had worked on a public relations plan for a mid-sized group, that was primarily into consumer goods (FMCG in Indian parlance), with a bit of foot print in some other businesses.
While the going was good in terms of coverage in the target media, the management of the client came up with the idea of conducting a press conference, to coincide with an event – inauguration of a spa, which was another business the client was into.
Somehow, the idea of having a full scale press conference seemed unworkable – from a PR point of view – both the import of the event itself, and the media interest in so far as a presser was concerned.
This was clearly communicated to the client contact, and we had emphatically stated that getting the media to cover the event was fine, but the presser wasn’t a great idea, and was bound to flop.
The rejoinder to that was that the CEO had’nt had an interaction with the media for long, and so, he wished to address the media. When we had suggested that he could rather speak to select journalists, that again was shot down – we were told that the corp comm guy had confirmed to the CEO that they will have a press conference. It boiled down to the EGO of the CEO being managed, by the corp comm person.
The D day came, and as we had forewarned, the press conference was indeed a disaster.
Despite commendable work from our team, which resulted in copious coverage for the clients brands and their corporate image, when the annual review happened, we were not offered a renewal.
We know well that the primary, rather singular reason was that the CEO’s ego took a beating as he did not see enough media at the press conference.
While handling a client, and managing their media visibility aspirations, how much can you put your foot down to something that will not work? Also, can we, in such a situation, chose to say that, we may not want to handle the client, if they do not heed to field advises? Can assertion border on a threat to walk out of the account, when demands from clients are a tad unreasonable?
The venerable agency, Bell Pottinger, we all know now, has been consigned to the dustbins of history. Atleast for now it look like that, as the immediate future looks bleak – most clients have walked away. The agency will rest in peace in its present form, but may be there could be a resurrection, with a different name.
All of us in PR know by now, that the Gupta family campaign, conducted the Bell Pottinggers South Africa office, was seen as grossly racist, given the country has a history of racism related issues, which they have coped up with grace and moved on. So, what the PR agency was doing by their #whitemonopolycapital campaign was to open the wounds in a highly sensitive nation. No wonder that the country’s opposition part rushed to complain to the PRCA, UK, where Bell Pottinger is head-quartered.
But, was it right for the PRCA per se, and most of us in the PR business to crucify Bell Pottinger, on the basis of a hashtag campaign, which in the strictest sense, is a social media campaign, and not a primary PR campaign?
While the campaign was driven by the South African office of Bell Pottinger, how can the parent office in UK be held responsible? Sure they had a moral accountability in the way their country office was breaching ethical practices, but was that good enough to ban the company from its PR practice, in the UK?
How much can a global PR agency, most of them who have business across different countries, and different cultural milieu, be help responsible for the behavior of an office is a far corner of the globe?
Also, what of the companies, that are not even member of the PRCA, but have practice in the UK, and elsewhere in the globe?
There are so many questions; while the end of Bell Pottinger was something they invited upon them by such controversial behavior (in some cases in the past as well), the decision of the PRCA, does open a pandoras box.
As the US was bracing itself for the impact of Hurricane Irma in its east coast, one company was busy telling its employees to be ready… with all the caution – well, not to protect them or the community from the eventual impact of the hurricane itself, but to make sure that the stores of the pizza chain continue to be business prepared, will all the needed supplies!
Other than the cursory mention that employees must be safe, the focus of the internal memo clearly was to get the employees back to work in double quick time, despite whatever be the impact of Hurricane Irma.
“Give your contact numbers” so that we are sure of your safety after the storm, clearly is saying “forget your welfare, we want to know if you are alive and kicking to get back to work”?!
“But we also have the responsibility to be available for the community when they most need us” – aint’ like Pizza Hut is throwing it open for people to get to safety, but to be sure they don’t miss out of selling a few slices of Pizza, even if it means the aftermath of a deadly hurricane??
And nothing to beat this – “in the event of an evacuation, you MUST return in 72 hours”. Who on earth puts such employment conditions, when you ought to be concerned about the safety of the employee and their family?
Best to conclude that Pizza Hut was bloody insensitive in sending out such a communication! and needless to say, revenues rule even at the cost of lives?
By the way, which sane manager writes such inhumane messages? Does Pizza Hut have any SOP for internal communication, and employee safety – real and not lip service??
Equifax is one of the largest credit reporting companies in the US, and it had a fews days ago gone public that hackers had stolen data of sensitive personal information on as many as 143 million people from the credit reporting firm. That’s data of almost half of the US population.
This is by far the biggest data theft in recent times, by any standards, from any company across the globe.
Lawmakers in the US are now looking at how much more should such data driven companies be held accountable, given the sensitive nature of the information they store, and decipher.
But from a communications point of view, how pliable is the argument by Equifax, that they are reporting the incident of such humongous proportions, almost late by 2 months or so?
Equifax learned about the breach on July 29 but didn’t reveal it for more than a month. The hackers stole credit card numbers of about 209,000 people and also got documents with personal information on 182,000 victims.
On the technical front, there are also so reports that Equifax’s data breach was the result of the company’s failure to patch a two-month-old bug in Apache Struts, despite multiple reports of the bug being exploited in the wild.
Equifax after the fall out of this incident, also offered a free year of credit monitoring known as “TrustedID Premier” to its consumers- but a careful read of the conditions revealed that those would be also giving up the right to sue over damages.
Some questions that come in mind in this issue are –
Was there a deliberate delay on the part of Equifax, in reporting the data-theft to the public at large and to the authorities?
If they say, they took time to discover the unprecedented volume of data stolen, what does it speak of the security systems the company had in place, that too, when the company’s business is on the bedrock of credit data of the public?
What kind of information security audits do companies like Equifax, who own public data, go through? and how rigorous are these I sec audits?
By having overriding conditions that the customer loses the right to sue, if he agreed for the one year credit monitoring, was Equifax blatantly exploiting the misery of the consumer, and trying to protect it legally, than really wanting to do good after the data got stolen.
Can companies that thrive on data, not really be aware of such massive information leaks for more than a month? Is it really believable?
There are a volley of other such questions, that clearly point to, probably, a series of lapses on the side of Equifax.
Again, another post on the never ending saga of how messed up things have become for Bell Pottinger.
Most industry leaders now opine that the agency I now probably on that last cylinder of oxygen, waiting to be pulled of.
Contrary to what most us thought – that it’s a crisis yes for Bell Pottinger, but they as a company will see through it to see another day, it now looks like the agencies survival is out of question.
Yet another big lesson from this, is that the so called agencies across the globe, that have a notoriety to take risks in the kind of business/accounts they chose to work with must be more careful. Its clear and evident that such risks survive as great business opportunities, only, only when there’s none to expose the deeds or misdeeds of the company.
Like, in the case of Bell Pottinger – but for the South African political opposition, the Democratic Party, which raised the issue with PRCA, it would have been business as usual for Bell Pottinger.
The company, and its founder, Lord Bell, have a reputation in the PR industry for taking risks.
Some of the high risk clients they chose to handle –
South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorious after murder charges were slapped on him.
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko
Syria’s first lady Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian premiere Assad
Former Chilean dictator, General Pinochet (who was arrested in London, on a warrant from Spain on murder charges)
And now, the infamous work for Oakbay Capital, a South African company owned by the wealthy Gupta family, was accused of inciting racial hatred.
Clearly, one big reason for the great performance of Bell Pottinger has been their propensity to work with such high risk accounts – places where PR angels would fear to tread!
(now, the PR world is delighted that with Bell Pottinger gone, they get a chunk of the business; well, what of the opportunity cost and risk taking involved?
This, has been hugely supported by the fact that the numerous layers of management in Bell Pottinger have been privy to this track record, and in fact have this as a style of operation.
Such handling shady and controversial accounts has been an avowed strategy, in the grand scheme of things within the agency. Many in the PR industry say the willingness to represent controversial individual reflected the views of Lord Bell himself.
All this has worked well, due to the lack of internal resistance or in fact, the semblance of any ethics, whatsoever.
Even this fall has been due to an aggressive external whistle-blower, in the form of the main opposition party in S Africa, the Democratic alliance.
The PRCA launched an investigation into Bell Pottinger following a complaint from South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). The DA blamed the PR company of working to “divide and conquer the South African public by exploiting racial tensions in a bid to keep Jacob Zuma and the ANC in power”.
But for this huge act by the S A opposition, it would have all been well yet for Bell Pottinger.
The lesson in all this is – lack of ethics is always a ticking bomb. And such business will never ever be a high risk and always successful business model.
When the end comes, it comes brutally and decimates your agency.
Just remember that if you are in reputation management.
The caption for the image above, may be in part from the PR agency Bell Pottinger’s tagline, and in part, the dilemma that the PR business across the globe faces today. Well, with what has happened, clients and governments will now ask for “Better reputation, yes, but with ethics and accountability’!
In swift and sudden developments in the global PR landscape, renowned European PR giant Bell Pottinger, is almost finished as an organisation, thanks to a purportedly racist campaign it had carried on behalf of a client (the Gupta family) in South Africa.
Acting on a complaint from the S African opposition, Democratic alliance to the PRCA (the UK trade association of PR firms), the body has suspended Bell Pottinger for a period of 5 years, from practising the trade. Bell Pottinger could for a name sake appeal to remove the ban, and ask for a reinstatement, but it looks like the winds would be against the embattled PR firm.
In some more revelations, Bell Pottinger also had been accused of being the PR face of the Rajapakse regime in Sri Lanka – a regime that was responsible for the purge of an entire Tamil population, in the north of the country.
The series of incidents that now look like will almost see the end of the road for Bell Pottinger, raise many interesting questions.
Like the PRCA, how many PR related trade associations across the globe (including India) have the resolve and teeth to raise their voice and act decisively against unethical and unwarranted actions of member agencies? Looking around, it will be tough or next to impossible to find associations with such teeth.
In many countries, including in Asia, PR trade associations are sheer memberships to the elite club, and its not even mandatory for agencies to possess membership. In such cases, where does the question of any ethics governance, and how are the agencies going to be asked to comply themselves to unwritten rules?
PR and reputation management have become inevitable business sectors. Any country and those in the socio-political environment need such services, as much as they need accounting or any other service. That being the case, is’nt it high time that the government steps in a bit, and see how the business can be regulated, atleast from the ethics transgression POV. That indeed is the need of the hour.
Given the size and scale of some of the global PR giants, and the diverse corporations they handle across continents, unless someone raises a finger to point out misdeeds, if any, how will be it possible to monitor such ethics violations which could be anywhere in their geography of operations. Unless there are whistle-blowers from outside, or agency appointed ethics ombudsmen, it would be next to impossible to crack the ethics nut.
Revenues are a key driver when it comes to how the agency conducts itself. While it’s all nice to have a loud statement adore the walls and the website of PR agencies, what they do on the ground is much different. Many large transnational PR corporations have global accounts that sort of are key revenue drivers. The revenues are so significant that some country operations become possible only with such global patronage. Won’t agencies buckle under pressure from such giant clients, and be willing to compromise their stated positions vis a vis ethics?
Offcourse, the aftermath of the Bell Pottinger saga throws up a whole array of issues, as to how PR agencies conduct themselves in their business of reputation management for their clients.
Regulation is a tough to manage thing, given that there is’nt even a comprehensive list of players in every country, who are active in the business.
Unless PR agencies have a commitment to work on the basis of an signed charter of ethics, Bell Pottinger could be well just the beginning of a purge.