Don't Worry, You Can Always Blame it On the PR Guy

With negative press piling up by the hour, no one can argue that The Recording Industry Association of America's decision to sue a New York City 12-year-old honor-roll student living in public housing - as part of it broad legal assault on people who swap songs for free over the Internet - was beyond stupid. For me and my kind, the painful part is that it will go down in history as a "PR blunder."

It is difficult to know the inner-workings of the RIAA, but either someone didn't think to ask the PR person (or firm) to vet the target list of the first 261 law suits or they overrode warnings from PR that such a suit would result in some serious bad press or, worst of all, it never occurred to RIAA to review the list, figuring in typical corporate hubris, that a file sharer is a file sharer is a file sharer and they all belong in the Big House anyway.

One of the big problems with the PR industry (among many to be sure, ask any reporter and you'll have to break for several meals before you get the full download) is that line mangers closer to the revenue stream always think they know as much, if not more about PR than the PR dept. does. They prove this every time they make inane suggestions about what would make a "great story" about the company usually offering up some meaningless factoid totally devoid of news value.



If the head PR person has a close enough relationship to the CEO, they MAY have the power to gently avoid the idea with a gentle rebuff. (Meanwhile in their heads going, "That's the dumbest idea you've had in a long series of stupid PR ideas, stick to selling widgets, I'll worry about PR!"). But more often than not, PR folks don't have sufficient power and are stuck pitching story ideas that don't deserve the light of day or defending corporate positions of transparent idiocy. The end result is that the PR person loses creditability with reporters and becomes even less effective.

In my experience, corporate managers think PR is mostly about sucking up to reporters, trying to bribe them with expensive dinners, gifts or favors and that the process requires more personality than business acumen. Ever wonder why the PR industry is overloaded with "pretty girls?"

Media relations is not nuclear physics but for every good PR person who knows his/her job is to facilitate coverage, not brow beat reporters into submission, there are 10 more who haven't a clue about the inner workings of the companies they represent and do stuff to annoy reporters more than help them.

It is interesting to see how slow most companies are to credit PR when the stock price goes up, or sales increase or the firm gets a fat new contract. But how quickly they attribute failed dumb-assed corporate strategy (see RIAA above) to "bad PR."

PR can't help clients from themselves. I recall being hired to improve the image of a notoriously disliked CEO, who then whined that all my suggestions ran contrary to his MO. When I pointed how his childish behavior was the cause of his problems and if he didn't change, his image wouldn't, he fired me. He predictably has disappeared up his own folly.

You can treat your RP department or agency like another "office service" and dictate what they do and how they do it. But you will lose whatever professionalism and experience they bring to the party. Hey, if you aren't getting good strategic advice from your PR folks, fire them and get news ones.

Or better yet, try doing it yourself. Then you'll appreciate being successful in this field involves a least a modicum of knowledge, maturity, connections and experience.

And, I am living proof that looks don't count!

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