Tuesday, March 02, 2004


A colleague sent this story from Adage.com, the web site of Advertising Age. Jonah Bloom faults PR agencies for talking too much about reputation and relationships and too little about marketing and selling.

Bloom is right that industry cant is confusing, but I don't think he is correct about the marketing part of the issue. It has been my observation that major agencies these days make their living from marketing PR. What is threatened is corporate communications, and by corporate communications, I mean working primarily with business media that require financial sophistication.

If my limited view of the field is correct, corporate communications departments in major agencies have been cut severely. Major agencies are relying on squads of inexperienced and low-paid juniors to do execution work that marketing prefers.

Before you throw bricks at me, I admit I might be wrong, but what I have been told and seen seems to trend this way. Part of this comes from agency management. PR firms are more revenue-driven than ever. The notion of serving clients first and building accounts over time is laughable. One must sell, sell, sell anything that comes through the door and if one doesn't, then it is off with the person's head.

If you think I'm wrong about this, consider the story I heard tonight. A major agency has a group of offices in a sector of the world that are losing money. The agency hired a fellow to go there at a salary of $300,000 a year to turn the offices around. I'm told the fellow doesn't have the option of shutting offices down. Rather, he has to sell new business to build offices up. How dumb is that? It seems to me he should be allowed to cut costs as quickly as possible then build revenue organically. Instead, I'll bet he'll be pitching business frantically and selling anyone who moves and can write a check. He might build offices, but he's also going to have business that will fly as quickly as it came in. And, if he fails, I'll bet he's fired in two years.

The problem is more than marketing of PR agencies. The problem lies at the core of the business itself.


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