Newsflash: PR is Not Easy, Cheap or Quick

As I continue to work towards my challenge of reading 26 books in 2011  (an aside: I’m up to 18 right now – two ahead of schedule), I recently finished reading Michael Crichton’s book State Of Fear. Within it, one section got my attention, and neatly illustrates why so many people think PR is cheap and easy.

For context, the following excerpt reflects a discussion on the media relations surrounding a new environmental conference, four days ahead of the first day of the conference (emphasis in the excerpt is mine):

“What’s the time-line of the campaign?”

“It’s a standard starburst launch to bring public awareness to abrupt climate change […] we have our initial press break on Sunday-morning talk shows and in the Sunday newspaper supplements. They’ll be talking about the start of the conference Wednesday and interviewing major photogenic principals […] we’ve given enough lead time to get into all the major weekly newsbooks around the world, Time, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, Paris Match, Oggi, The Economist. All together, fifty news magazines to inform lead opinion makers. We’ve asked for cover stories, accepting banner folds with a graphic. Anything less and they didn’t get us. We expect covers on at least twenty.”

WHAT???

Yes, it’s just a novel (not a particularly good one, frankly) but things like this shape peoples’ perceptions of the PR industry, so I feel compelled to point out a few things for the record:

  1. The world’s top media won’t all cover your brand new conference. It’s a struggle to get attention from even local tier one media in many cases, when travel budgets are low and conferences are a dime a dozen. Twenty cover stories? No chance unless you’re hosting the whole world at your event. In this book, the character notes a little later that they will have 200 TV journalists alone, along with “a number of print media people to carry the word to elite opinion makers, the ones that read but do not watch TV.” Ugh.
  2. You don’t get to dictate how earned media cover you. You can do your best to influence it, but “my way or the highway” is a myth.
  3. Four days lead time is not enough. In the book, the media kit for the conference was still in development, four days ahead of the conference (which, funnily enough, puts the conversation at the same time the coverage was meant to come out… ah, plot holes…). Sorry, you’ve missed a lot of your weeklies.
No wonder clients have such overly high expectations for their PR folks. Of course clients making a 30-minute presentation at a conference will want tier-one media coverage, if their experience of PR is limited to misrepresentation like this.
Again, it’s a novel and Crichton (as far as I know) isn’t representing himself as any kind of PR expert. Still, a little more of a grounding in reality would be nice, no? Or am I just overly sensitive? Maybe I am. There’s a State Of Fear pun here somewhere…
Ok, my blood pressure is dropping again. Moving on…
  • David Thalberg

    Agreed!  Pet peeve my wife and I have – in movies, tv, books, etc. – the old: “You have 24 hours to come up with the new campaign and it better be brilliant, or your fired!”  Two movies I recently saw were perfect examples of this: “Friends with Benefits” (GQ “Art Director” Justin Timberlake comes up with a cover photo in a ridiculous manner) and then “The Smurfs” (yes, I know it’s the Smurfs, but…) (Neil Patrick Harris is promoted to VP of Marketing at some launch event, and then is told to come up with an advertising campaign in 24 hours to be launched at another launch event, or he’s fired.)

    These story lines are just so ridiculous – I realize we’re not talking brain surgery here (although there probably are movies out there where someone has to learn how to operate on a brain in 24 hours!), but it’s just odd.

    And that’s my Pet Peeve.

  • Brian J.

    Well, they call it fiction for a reason. But still it’s a shame, considering how realistic his other books are, like the one about re-growing dinosaurs from DNA in mosquitos trapped in amber 🙂 Never let facts get in the way of a good story!

  • Sarah K

    This is bringing back memories of clients (all of whom I love!) requesting that I secure Breakfast Television for them – and front page of the Post, Star and Globe – for their product launch (which may or may not include a b-list Canadian celebrity or semi-controversial politician). It’s so difficult sometimes to explain to clients that even though they are paying for a campaign, even a great strategy can sometimes fall short of the earned media mark due to factors PR cannot control. 

    Yet another reason to ensure that your PR strategy aligns with a paid-media strategy and there is a synergy between MarComm/Advertising and PR, creating multiple consumer touch-points for information. 

  • Sarah K

    This is bringing back memories of clients (all of whom I love!) requesting that I secure Breakfast Television for them – and front page of the Post, Star and Globe – for their product launch (which may or may not include a b-list Canadian celebrity or semi-controversial politician). It’s so difficult sometimes to explain to clients that even though they are paying for a campaign, even a great strategy can sometimes fall short of the earned media mark due to factors PR cannot control. 

    Yet another reason to ensure that your PR strategy aligns with a paid-media strategy and there is a synergy between MarComm/Advertising and PR, creating multiple consumer touch-points for information. 

    • Well said. In addition, setting those expectations up-front are critical to avoid disappointment and conflict down the road.

    • Well said. In addition, setting those expectations up-front are critical to avoid disappointment and conflict down the road.

  • Nice one, there is actually some good points on this blog some of my readers may find this useful, I must send a link, many thanks.

  • Katherine

    This literally made me laugh out loud!  I can’t tell you how many times I repeat words similar to this in my office.  So sad that these misperceptions skew the public and our potential client’s views!  Twitter:  @zimgirl29:twitter 

  • Anonymous

    But you can and should cover your own conference and use social media to get the word out to those most important to the client.  And yes, it is hard to tell clients that they aren’t likely  to get much coverage for their conference panels

  • I’d say I’m usually given about one to three days notice that I’m covering a conference. 

  • Anonymous

    I totally agree with what you’re saying! But in my opinion since nowadays anything and everything is online I believe that we should push at least half of our PR efforts towards improving our  online reputation. I’m saying this because I have seen a couple of businesses fall fast and hard because they did not take this aspect into consideration.

  • Well said. In addition, setting those expectations up-front are critical
    to avoid disappointment and conflict down the road.  This literally made me laugh out loud!I’d say I’m usually given about one to three days notice that I’m covering a conference.