High-fidelity PR requires open communication between agency & client

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By Linda Forrest

This one goes out to R.E.M., a band whose breakup last week reminded me of their full discography, including New Adventures in Hi-Fi, hence the focus of this post.

Wikipedia describes high fidelity as follows:

high fidelity—or hi-fi—reproduction is a term used by home stereo listeners and home audio enthusiasts (audiophiles) to refer to high-quality reproduction of sound or images, to distinguish it from the poorer quality sound produced by inexpensive audio equipment. Ideally, high-fidelity equipment has minimal amounts of noise and distortion and an accurate frequency response.

The best PR is high-fidelity PR. PR practitioners act as the conduit through which the marketplace receives our clients’ messages. In order to achieve the most accurate, worthwhile coverage that supports our clients’ overall communications objectives, the process itself needs to be as friction free as possible. But, in some cases, that’s easier said than done.

Media relations involves a number of different parties, the number of participants increasing dramatically the bigger the company is. With small startups, PR resources typically have direct access to the founders and chief executives at the client company. In these scenarios, there’s less chance of broken telephone muddling up your message between the proverbial horse’s mouth and the media. As additional layers of complexity are added to the organization, there is more potential for noise and distortion to be introduced. The corporate structure of the client company will determine the access that PR has to the CEO; perhaps the PR team reports to a marketing director who then liaises with corporate communications who has a direct line to the CEO. That’s two additional levels of people (and their personal and departmental objectives and agendas) that messages have to trickle down through, before PR resources are pitching to the media. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but in the main, the larger the organization, the more gatekeepers and approvals processes required before information is made available to the PR flacks and before questions are answered by client executives.

Some noise was made back in 2007, when Chrysler shifted PR reporting from direct to the CEO to HR instead. There was a great blog post around the time of that shift, called “Why PR needs a seat at management’s table,” which included links to articles on the importance of PR having a direct link to the CEO, no matter the size of the company, including this one from Detroit Free Press reporter Mark Phelan:




An effective communications team can steer management away from bad decisions and build long-term plans to help the company succeed.

That’s just one of the advantages of your PR resources having direct access to the CEO. Unfortunately, it seems as though the trend is, at least with the female practitioners that reside within what ABC called the Velvet Ghetto in its landmark 1985 study and 2002 follow up, heading in the wrong direction:

In the area of access to senior management, 50 percent of respondents in “The Velvet Ghetto” said they reported directly to the CEO, whereas in ABC Profile 2002, only 35 percent said they report directly to the CEO. In 1985, 80 percent said they always had direct access to the CEO compared to only 53 percent in 2002.

Respondents to PR Week’s 2010 Corporate Survey indicated that more than half are reporting directly to the CEO, an encouraging statistic:

It’s near impossible to have high quality transmission of the strategic objectives of the C-suite transmitted to and through PR if direct access is not given. Futurist and entrepreneur Ross Dawson, who wrote a blog post on the future of PR more than five years ago, recently revisited his earlier post, which contained the following:

Previously, PR executives very rarely had access beyond the Chief Marketing Officer, and often were managed by considerably more junior client staff. Those PR executives that demonstrate they can understand their clients’ strategic issues, and engage at that level of the organisation, will have the opportunity to do so. Moving beyond the ever-more trenchant issues of reputation management and related spheres, agencies can extend themselves to work with clients on other critical and highly relevant issues such as customer-driven innovation.

It’s really this point that led to the creation of the strategic marketing consultancy, Francis Moran & Associates. After operating inmedia Public Relations for more than a dozen years, it became clear that our clients and prospects had a need for strategic marketing counsel and implementation that extended beyond PR; that each senior member of inmedia had strategic marketing experience and that we have an extensive network of best-of-breed marketing implementation specialists enabled us to diversify and build out our service offering. But that’s not my point: That we were able to have those conversations with the decision makers at those prospect and client companies enabled us to recognize that need. If we were not given direct access to the executive team, not only would our ability to conduct high-fidelity story telling have been hampered, so too would our business development efforts.

Image: Vinyl Surrender

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