Public comment or private conversation

The irony in the term “public relations” is that most of us don’t like to conduct our relationships in public, preferring to focus on nurturing more personal connections with journalists and other influencers.  This doesn’t mean that we should be “invisible persuaders” acting in an unethical manner behind closed doors, rather the benefits of public relations are most apparent when a targeted rather than a mass market approach is undertaken.

The next edition of Revolve (the magazine for members of the Motor Industry Public Relations Association) will include a feature about the value of motor shows.  Every member of the media asked for their view emphasised the importance of one-to-one meetings with executives, engineers and designers over press conferences where bland messages and dry facts are delivered to an assembled mass of journalists.  The opportunity for private conversations with individual public relations practitioners was highlighted, even by those who represent online media. 

Aren’t they clamouring for the chance to comment on podcasts, social media news releases or downloaded video then?  No – but the ability to access information via the Internet rather than having to collect fat press packs is now expected.  Indeed, the only people eager for the printed word are those looking to make a quick selling via eBay.

Journalists and PR practitioners agree there is no substitute for meeting in person, and, in the case of new car launches, seeing and touching the metal.  The excitement of an unexpected reveal, the buzz of a busy press day and a positively-charged atmosphere cannot be replicated online.

As one journalist commented: “motor shows are an opportunityto do ‘proper’ journalism – everybody is there and you have a chance to interview the key team”. 

Just because everybody is there, doesn’t mean that comments need to be conducted in public – via dull press conferences.  Instead, this exciting environment offers numerous opportunities for private conversations.  It might be public relations, but many of us prefer to do it in private.

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8 Replies to “Public comment or private conversation

  1. Really nice post! I work at an important and traditional medium-size law firm and I’m the Head of the Corporate Communications Department (truly speaking, I’m the head, body and limbs of the Dept).
    I have organized some press conferences and I have sent corporate press releases to local newspapers and I’m quite acquainted with some journalists that deal with legal affairs.
    But I can say that it’s only with those with whom I’ve organized private meetings and had one-to-one conversations both on legal and general matters the ones who have replied promptlier and more eagerly to any press request I’ve had.
    It seems that, in public relations, sometimes a private conversation (with the right person at the right moment) makes wonders.

  2. “press” was my magic anti-spam word today.

    Seems to be on topic.

    Several thoughts — we seem to link public relations and publicity too closely. Publicity is only a part of PR. How big a part depends on the PR practioner involved, and the needs of his or her organization.

    I’m in Canada; a huge country with a hunge amount of “media” of which some is Canadian and a lot is foreign.

    For some poor sap stuck in Regina, Saskatchewan, where the local TV station and the local newspaper are almost full ofwire / headquarters stories, it’s no big deal to run into a reporter or an editor or a photographer in the grocery store, or arrange to meet for lunch or breakfast or dinner.

    In Toronto, where I am, all those storeis get written, and themillion journalists here are generally pretty busy, in the first place, and innundated by all the PR people here, so they don’t have much tome to meet with PR folks, and when they do, losts of other PR folks miss out.

    And this thread doesn’t seem to differentiate between kinds of journalists, with the exception of car writers. Car writers are the biggest mooches in the world, they love to get out of the office, they are the first in line for the free anything — Scotch or a gym bag or a steak dinner or a key chain with a flashlight on it.

    And there’s only a few car companies pursuing them. Compare the number of car companies with the number of restaurants, or furniture stores, or mutal fund companies.

    Then compare opportunities; car writers go to car shows, in Frankfurt and Los Angeles and Detroit and Toronto and Montreal and New York and Tokyo and lord knows where else, and the car PR people go to the same shoes, armed with executivbes they are allowed to offer on a platter to the Jim Kenzies of the world.

    But how is a PR person for, say, a concrete company, supposed to build personal arrangements with journalists in St. John’s, Halifax, St. John, Quebec City, Montreal, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria?

    When I used to go to all those cities, and more, on behalf of a telecommunications equipment manufacturer, my media calls were based on story quality, not some “relationship” and the vast majority of other Candian PR people working for manufacturers are in the same boat — at least those allowed to travel.

    But over in, say, the booze business, or fashion, the journalists are clustered, the bribe-like giveaways are handier (I at least had phones to give away, if journalist employer codes of ethics allowed them to accept)and everyone gatehrs frequently in places where realtionships can be nurtured.

    As always, terms need to be defined, and as always, “it depends” is usually the right answer.

  3. Toni – your paper sounds very interesting. I believe personal influence is definitely not exclusively adopted in Asian culture. There are many factors which may have counted against its acceptance as a model of good practice here.

    1. Those promoting PR as a profession have frowned on the gin and tonic reputation of building relationships, especially with media
    2. Views within organisations that “networking” means you are “not working”, making it harder to justify being out of the office building solid contacts.
    3. The marketing approach to PR which focuses on the direct mail strategy of spamming press releases
    4. Personality and interpersonal skills being seen as less critical as competencies for successful practitioners
    5. Pressures and preferences of journalists who feel increasingly negative towards PR practitioners

    As you indicate, the area has not been robustly investigated and so is seen as the casual approach to PR.

    I do believe that relationships do still carry weight in both journalism and PR. When I started in my PR career, the black book of contacts was viewed as an essential tool.

    As you imply, in recent years there has been research on networks (drawing maybe on the online world) which could perhaps be related to real world relationships – and also linking into interpersonal skills and trait theories.

  4. My first reaction:

    From my current position (big company, very small Comms department) I can say that this eventual conceptualisation will maybe also help our life-work balance, understanding from colleagues and managers in other departments and – more important – effectiveness!

    How much value has my yesterday evening, spent talking to several people in one event which is not visibly related to our strategy but which is strictyly related to it?

    Hard to support so far, in my case.

    Thank you very much for this post.


  5. On behalf of the Institute for Public Relations -and together with Indian scholar Sriramesh Krishnamurthy and senior Canadian professional Jim Savage- I am presently working on a joint paper dedicated to exploring more in depth, compared to the existing literature, the personal influence model of public relations.
    During our preliminary exchanges, we agree that this model is widely the most universally adopted (and not only, as some write, say or think, in asian culture…remember al pacino’s people I know?), but it is less studied and rationalized than others because it evokes a somewhat emabarassing model (for scholars as well as professionals), basically implying that personal relationships do not really belong to that rhetoric body of knowledge which we so often fill out mouths with. Having said this, it might also be of interest to know that a just finished and major research which I conducted in Italy with my bright young friend Chiara Valentini (whose excellent work has been more than once mentioned in this blog)on relationships between public relators and journalists in my country, tells us that both professions attribute utmost importance to the development and consolidation of personal relationship networks.
    Finally, may I underline that in Milano, october 2008, euprera (the european association of public relations education and research)will hold its annual congress on the theme ‘the institutionalization of public relations and communication’ and, in this context, the IPR has issued a 500 euro grant for scholars who will want to address the personal influence model in the istitutionalization context.
    These are the reasons why I am so interested in the issue raised by this post.
    Let me jump to conclusions in the hope of provoking some hearty and useful reactions from you.
    I am convinced that, if we were capable of conceptualizing the acquisition, adoption and adaptation of the growing body of knowledge management practice, to the point of defining and implementing a transferability process of personal relationships into organizational relationships, much of the shyness of our professional and scholarly communities concerning the all pervasive personal influence model would fade away and we might seriously be able study, rationalize and hopefully teach how an organization may increase its cultural, economic and social value and capital by enhancing its relatioship systems, which -at the end- is what public relations is mostly about. Reactions?

  6. Very nice post! I speak for my country here, and press conference is #1 on my list of overused tools. Ukrainian companies feel they wasted their news if there hasn’t been a news conference. However, based on feedback from journalists, it’s such a waste of money! True, face-to-face communication is hard to replace, and sometimes it’s just easier to have everyone in one place to deliver the news, but the real value of these events is again in the follow-up – private conversations, to use Heather’s term. Sometimes I wish my client CEOs would read this blog!

  7. Quite interesting. I generally agree.

    Face to face conversations, however, have to happen; the daily job (press releases, telephone calls, ect) is probably their necessary background.

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