A message for this medium*

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Today, every magazine is thinner than it was two years ago, or even six months ago. We can no longer blame 9/11; the Canadian economy is healthy. I place the blame squarely with

public relations consultants.

You’re thinking, ‘Isn’t that kind of extreme?’

Example: A firm in Western Canada provides companies with short-term marketing and advertising personnel. Blitz is the perfect advertising vehicle for this firm. Its president, who has an MBA and years of marketing experience, was about to sign a one-year contract with Blitz. Then he called to say that he had changed his mind, and had entrusted his entire marketing budget to a PR consultant. The PR consultant is sucking up a good portion of that budget in fees, is industriously spitting out news releases and has placed all of his client’s allocated advertising dollars into the sponsorship of golf tournaments. ‘Strange, dumb but true.

I start getting said releases. Aside from the fact that they’re replete with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, they’re irrelevant. Do I care that this company is sponsoring golf tournaments? No–it doesn’t fit my editorial mandate. But the consultant doesn’t know that because he didn’t do his homework. He can’t write, he’s lazy and he’s sabotaging a firm that had great potential but which, I now believe, will not be around for long.

(My favourite is the Web marketing thing. People channel their marketing dollars into developing their web sites. They send out endless news releases, as if launching a web site is still something to crow about. Then, instead of advertising the sites, they sit and wait for Net surfers to stumble across them.)

There’s much talk these days about ROI, which everyone wants. Lately, the word is that advertising isn’t bringing in ROI. But, despite what people say, ROI is very difficult to measure. Media buyers look at numbers of people reached, who those people are and the costs to reach those people–they don’t demand guarantees that the advertising will work, because they know better. What advertising does is keep a company’s name and products in people’s faces. It supports all other sales and marketing efforts. It’s not the magic bullet for increasing business–it’s the gun.

Last week, a certified PR professional said to me: “”We provide tangible ROI–the evidence is in the write-ups our clients get in newspapers and magazines, or radio mentions, or whatever.””

Or whatever. It’s illogical, and foolish, to assume that mentions in the media will result in increased business. There’s no guarantee that an editor will do more than glance at a news release. If a release piques interest, there’s no guarantee that the release will culminate in a positive story–it could end up sparking a career-ending exposé. And so what if your company gets a positive media mention? Is that going to send consumers scrambling for your product? Of course not.

PR people are great persuaders. But those who sell PR as a solution, rather than as a small part of a comprehensive communications strategy, are doing huge damage. They’re not bringing their clients closer to ROI nirvana, they’re wasting tons of money, they’re hurting their clients’ long-term prospects and they’re damaging the media properties that cannot stay in business without advertising dollars–plus all the designers, writers, producers etc. who rely on those media properties.

If PR ‘professionals’ continue to divert dollars into their own pockets, and away from advertising vehicles, they’re not going to have any media properties to contact. They can send out all the news releases they like, but there will be no one left to read them.

Louise Aird is the publisher and editor of Blitz Magazine, a national media communications magazine out of Vancouver. Her email address is blitzmag@smartt.com. This column has been reprinted with permission from the author.

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