Should Principals Really Do Media Clippings?

In a recent episode of Inside PR, one of the excellent podcasts I mentioned yesterday, the panel members talked about the importance of senior executives in public relations agencies continuing to do the “grunt work.” I meant to phone-in a comment but kept forgetting and decided, in the end, to write about it here instead.

Maintaining your skills is important

I completely agree with most of what the Inside PR crew said.

As Julie Rusciolelli mentioned in a related blog post:

“Senior PR practitioners should never feel so self-important where they don’t need to make a media call or draft a press release.”

For one thing, as they point out, staying involved maintains your executives’ skills. Writing takes practice, and it’s easy to forget how you used to go about it. Media calls are the same, as are many other aspects of communications.

Aside from the practical benefits to the executives, continuing to do the practical work also motivates the more junior employees who see that their boss is still willing to get stuck-in and do some of the heavy lifting.

However…

I think there are some things on which senior execs shouldn’t spend their time, and that wasn’t communicated effectively in the conversation.

One of the panel mentioned media lists. I’m not sure that clients would want to spend $300 per hour for you to create media lists or cut clippings when they could spend $100 or less per hour for the same result.

This isn’t about being too good or too senior to do something, or having worked your way out of having to do it; it’s about providing good value for money to clients.

Experience does matter

Don’t get me wrong – as I said earlier I agree with most of what the team said. In some cases it does make sense for senior practitioners to stay involved and I certainly don’t think you become “too good” for tasks as you move up. What’s more, in some instances experience can result in a superior product. For example:

  • Experienced writers add value by knowing how to structure their work
  • Experienced media relations pros know how to effectively communicate a story to reporters
  • Experienced event planners will see the gaps in event plans before they jeopardize the event.

It also makes sense for experienced team members to stay involved when they’re coaching others. That kind of learning is invaluable.

In other cases, though, this kind of thinking just comes across as people trying too hard to sound humble. Sure, when you’re short-staffed it’s great to know that people are willing and able to chip in. The rest of the time, however, wouldn’t it be better to oversee those things while helping the more junior employees to develop?

Long-term that will provide your client with better value.


(Prior to publishing this post, I contacted a couple of the members of the Inside PR panel to get their reaction. Dave Jones reinforced his valid point from the show that as people move up the ladder they can delegate work, but the responsibility for that work ultimately continues to rest with them. Martin Waxman, meanwhile agreed with my concern about billing rates and suggested that principals lower their rates for that work or provide a blended rate to clients. Thanks for your input, guys)

  • Sometimes, however, the client just wants (and needs) you–the big kahunga, the head banana. You sold the account, you promised top-line thinking and strategy, right? Too many times really critical stuff (yes, press releases that are smart and strategic) are passed down to the junior campers on staff.

  • Dave, this is the comment I started yesterday before Talk is Cheap and my email issues. So here, a day later, is my response (hopefully more considered).

    First thanks for your kind words about Inside PR and for the heads up that you were doing this post. You raise some very good points.

    I completely agree about value for work – so, as you noted, I don’t think we should charge a client full-rates for work that could be done by a more junior person.

    That’s where ‘investing in clients’ comes in – something I believe every good agency does. Let’s not kid ourselves, we’re all in the business to make money. But by making an investment, we demonstrate that we’re partners and not simply vendors.

    I believe we covered this on the show, but I also think it’s important for senior practitioners to keep ‘working out’. We need to continue to experience work from the perspective of ‘the way things are’ versus ‘the way things used to be’ (in the old days – BP; before Pentium).

    Then, we can help guide junior practitioners and have a more relevant context to understand their ideas and advice. And ultimately provide better value for clients.

    We shouldn’t (and can’t) do everything. However taking our turn on the front lines helps us adapt to the changing landscape first-hand (and it is changing).

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