One of the things I find hilariously annoying about the world of business as a whole is how easy it is to spot an industry’s late, late entrants trying their best to feign leadership and innovation. However, playing into maturing industry trends isn’t sufficient and thus the need arises to sell more quantity at a lower price.
We all know that, in order to turn over a higher quantity, companies must streamline processes, which inevitably leads to a decline in quality.
Moreover, as a result of this, the only notable innovations in a saturated or declining market arise in the form of technology designed to assist new entrants in speeding up production and automating services.
We should also not forget to mention that, in an industry experiencing the start of a decline, there exists a higher propensity for organizations to adopt less-ethical practices. For the most part, companies are more likely to engage in unethical marketing over more serious, amoral practices.
What does all the above have to do with the public relations industry being a joke? Continue reading because we’re getting there!
Capitalizing on Laziness: Why PR Firms Make Their Job Look Harder Than It Is
One of the butterfly effects created by capitalism is the normalization of mass social loafing. Social loafing is defined by psychologists as a tendency to exert less deliberate effort in completing a group task due to the combined effort of the other members. However, this definition is more for organizational situations.
The term “social loafing” in a societal context has been used to point out technology’s influence on the human psyche. An example of this is how the smartphone started out as merely augmenting our brains to many of us unable to recall a friend’s phone number without looking in our contacts.
On a broader scale, the proliferation of technology has enabled the expansion of service-related industries in countless forms. These services remove the need for people to exert as much effort in getting what they want.
Psychologists and neuroscientists say that our brains are on constant overload, looking everything up yet remembering nothing. Nicholas Carr, author of The Glass Cage: How Computers Are Changing Us, told NBC: “We’ve never had a technology that we use so intensively for so many different things.”
As the theory suggests, people will become so reliant upon accomplishing what they want with only a push of a button, they will eventually forget how to do it.
As the Internet and smartphone technologies evolved, those number of things not only exploded but the types of online services offered today seem limitless. In particular, PR firms (most of which offer completely online services) have gradually removed the need for founders and CEOs to stay connected with their consumer base.
Business owners of today can virtually operate a company from anywhere in the world, making business decisions based completely off data received from second and third-hand sources.
Unlike entrepreneurs of yesteryear, today’s business founder and CEO are less instinctual and more disconnected. They’re leaving more and more important aspects of being a boss in the hands of automation and remote firms.
If and when they find their company has made a number of bad turns, the damage can be so extensive that it’s too late to save what they worked so hard to build.
And it doesn’t stop there.
The Debate: Employing In-House PR Versus Outsourcing a PR Firm
Jennifer Leggio, a PR strategist for Cisco and Forbes contributor, tackled this issue head-on by not taking one side or another. Instead, Leggio attempts to show how leaning too heavily on a single unproven philosophy, no matter which side one is on, only perpetuates industry confusion.
In an article entitled In the PR Agency Vs. In-House PR Debate, Nobody Wins, Leggio writes: “It's the age-old question: ‘Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?’ In the war of public relations agencies versus defenders of in-house PR, the question should be, ‘Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?’”
For most company leaders, coming up with reasonable answers to the last question may prove elusive, being that the “combatants in this debate” believe their way is effective.
The Conundrum: Being Right Is Being Happy – Even If Wrong
At the root of this conundrum is a narrative of human psychology where being right is being happy and being happy means being right, even if one must blatantly and deliberately rebuff reality.
“Saying ‘do or don't’ hire a PR agency or even a PR manager based on generalities is like saying ‘every business needs a Pinterest page,’” she continues.
“There are several models of PR that work for different types of companies.”
Towards the end of the article, she points out an important issue: Founders and CEOs of companies (whether large or small) benefit more from hiring PR professionals who possess the mettle to tell them “No” when need be.
Getting “a dose of reality from those interacting daily with the influencers in their market” is why a brand should be paying a PR specialist, not as an ego booster. But how many company leaders pay for PR service with the expectation of hiring a voice of validation rather than a voice of reason?
Additionally, what percentage of PR agencies actually do the job with integrity over merely keeping clients happy so they can collect their monetary reward for always allowing clients to be “right?”
Sadly, in a saturated market where landing clients often times involves abandoning integrity, the percentage of PR specialists who get down to brass tacks is probably in the single digits.
The late entrants mentioned earlier – the ones dead set on competing for profits rather than quality – have tossed aside the PR ethics laid out by industry pioneers like Edward Louis Bernays, the “father of public relations.”
And since true artisans have historically found themselves out-numbered and overpowered by the industrialists, they are, too, forced to choose between adopting new industry norms or become overshadowed.
The latter choice means accepting the fact that the “confirmation seekers” who comprise most of the market base will view them as dross and “not a good fit” for their brand.
In most cases, founders and CEOs happen upon this wisdom at some point, but only after dealing with their fair share of shady PR agencies. If they're lucky, those learning experiences won’t have harmed their brand beyond the point of no return, as has happened now and again.
The Solution: Know and Accept What PR Is and What It Will Never Be
The practice of public relations has been around in some form or another since the beginning of recorded history. Nevertheless, the idea of a company outsourcing a PR firm to help it build a reputation and an image didn’t start to take shape until the 20th century, making it a fairly modern concept.
Before the likes of Lee and Bernays commercialized public relations, historians of ancient history paint a picture showing “influence and communications management” as being something mostly controlled by royalty, as well as primarily one-sided.
Adding to that, the end goal of most historically recorded PR campaigns reveal a generally consistent pattern: they’re inherently geared towards one-sidedness and mass manipulation.
One such example can be taken from Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus, both of whom used grandiose-ladened PR tactics to convince Europeans to migrate to the “New World.”
These famous explorers did so on the order of the royal families who were funding and overseeing their expeditions.
The kings understood well that it would be a lot cheaper to use their militaries to take control of large swaths of territory and then hand smaller pieces over to regular citizens in the form of feudal land tenure. (D'A Jones, 2005)
Occupying a land with soldiers is expensive; convincing your subjects that the land is overflowing with natural riches so they occupy it instead – well, that is genius.
“This is not a secret press bureau. All our work is done in the open. We aim to supply news. This is not an advertising agency. If you think any of our matter ought properly to go to your business office, do not use it.
“Our matter is accurate. Further details on any subject treated will be supplied promptly, and any editor will be assisted most carefully in verifying directly any statement of fact. … In brief, our plan is frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.”
After reading Lee’s words, what much else is there for me to write on the matter of ethical public relations?
But I will remind the reader about the topic I opened with: PR firms in a saturated market abandoning the ethics that define genuine PR for a cheap industry knockoff designed to optimize profits.
Moving Forward: Avoid Becoming a Loafer By Getting Involved
As an entrepreneur, I believe in being as hands-on as reasonably possible. But I also understand that’s not the way for everyone. Nor does wanting to delegate as much as possible to as many people as possible wrong in any sense.
Nonetheless, if you’re a founder or CEO of a small startup or even an SMB owner, you may have considered or are considering PR options. As many of us have budgets to maintain, finding a top pick PR agency that’s affordable seems like a shot in the dark.
According to getmustr.com, just to open a contract and keep it active can cost a company approximately $2,000 to $20,000 a month as a retainer. On top of that, once an agent starts working on your project, you will be expected to pay an hourly fee of $100 an hour and much more depending on the firm.
If a company were to hire an in-house PR employee, the median expected salary is between $43,550 and $59,300 a year. When you consider that, hiring an in-house to public relations specialist is more cost effective than hiring an agency.
And while I’ve read blog posts by agencies pointing out various downsides associated with hiring in-house, such as limited experience, it shouldn’t be too surprising to know I wasn’t too convinced.
As I pondered my own solution to the problem, I decided that if I transition one of my best marketing employees to public relations (with a raise of course), I could possibly achieve the best result. Of course, I did consider the issue of additional training.
Thanks to the growing number of online colleges, offering one of your top marketing employees a chance at taking an online public relations course is affordable and simple. In addition to that, they would most likely be very grateful at the opportunity.
Many CEOs and business managers throughout time have suggested that promoting from within your company is the best way to build respect among your staff, while promoting morale. For me, this is the third option both sides of the debate seem to forget about.
This sponsored post is courtesy of Andrej Kovacevic.