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…
Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.