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Consultancies: what are they good for?

27 Feb

There are two myths I frequently confront regarding public relations consultancies. At year one, many of my students believe that working in PR must mean working in a PR consultancy (thus ignoring the majority of PR roles and work experience opportunities). Then, later, many still believe that to further their in-house career ambitions, they need a stint in a consultancy. The belief seems to be that all high-powered PR work goes on in consultancies, not in-house.

There are great niche consultancies serving specific sectors and there is some thought leadership amongst the international firms (this is a good example involving blogs). Julian Henry’s piece in Media Guardian a week ago sparked some response on this week’s letters page. But I would contend that the centre of gravity in the PR industry has moved in-house, and that consultancies are now at best a niche business. You may disagree.

It’s the blog wot got it!

31 Jan

Congratulations to Jeremy Pepper who has been appointed to Weber Shandwick’s San Francisco practice. Their news release cites his weblog as a strong asset, hence my headline (derived, for those outside the UK, from The Sun newspaper).

The Future of PR

3 Nov

Brendan Hodgson’s late night glimpse into the future of PR manages to be simultaneously sensible and insightful.

He doesn’t quite address the nagging question I have, though. What are PR consultancies for? What service do they provide that cannot be delivered by marketing managers, in-house PR teams, HR directors, legal advisers, management consultants and the others encroaching on the vital sphere of communications.

Surely the answer isn’t outsourced media relations. Not even in 2005. His answer appears to be to act as consultants to chief communications officers. Possibly.

The wages of spin

24 May

The barriers to entry are low; fixed costs are minimal; fees are high; and services are in demand. So why is it so hard to make a profit out of public relations consultancy?

They won’t thank me for the reminder, but Tim Dyson and Andrew Smith were well-established PR consultants when I entered the business (this was back in the late 1980s when most of the students I now teach were just being born). Both have posted some thoughts on this problem: Andrew Smith focuses on timesheets and billable time – and Tim Dyson points to a possible way forward.

Questions for consultancies

16 May

Michael O’Connor Clarke’s series on The Seven Deadly Agency Types is building to a damning indictment of lage PR consultancies – and the clients who hire them. All the more so because O’Connor Clarke writes as an insider.

His types so far are: The Classic Sweatshop; The One Trick Pony; and The Behemoth.

Andrew Smith, another insider, shares some of these concerns and considers the ‘small is beautiful’ paradox of consultancy service.

Two cheers for publicity

26 Apr

PR professionals have picked their favourite publicists for The Independent (via Mark My Words). True, it blurs the distinction between PR and publicity, but this often seems to me to be more of an academic-world than a real-world distinction. Who gets results? and what works best? are important questions, to be followed by is it ethical? and is it sustainable?

‘Never give up’

20 Apr

Jeremy Pepper has interviewed PR grandee Peter Gummer (Lord Chadlington). In summary, his advice is ‘never give up’.

Consultancy conundrum

15 Apr

I’m enjoying the style and tone of this new PR blog (‘an ongoing look into public relations from an entry level standpoint’). Yet it will be a hard balancing act to keep it interesting while avoiding humiliation or embarrassment to his employer, clients or media contacts.

Here’s the conundrum. PR consultancy is high profile: there are some high calibre individuals who become rich and famous as a result of their efforts. Yet most PR jobs (certainly in the UK) are within organisations (large and small, public, private and not-for-profit), not in the consultancy sector. Employment trends are against careers in consultancy.

Yet of the PR bloggers linked on the right, I can only think of one notable exception (Tom Murphy) to the following rule. Excluding the few academics and journalists, they’re all consultants.


28 Jan

My apologies to Charisma PR for repeating a mistake published by PR Week (see this post).

It’s quite clear from the Charisma PR news release that the task of the new consultancy is to help shed the Channel Islands’ image as ‘heaven’s waiting room’.

I know as a teacher that it’s tempting to knock down an Aunt Sally for effect. The problem comes when the image you’re knocking down sticks in the mind and replaces the true message you’re trying to get across.


14 Jan

I don’t seek to mock others’ promotional efforts (this site isn’t Spin Bunny). But this is so astonishing that I can’t resist passing comment…

We learn from PR Week that the Guernsey tourist board has hired Brighton-based Charisma PR to present the Channel Islands as … ‘heaven’s waiting room’. What image does this present? Purgatory… an old people’s home… a hospice?

(Declaration of interest: my wife went on a press trip to Guernsey last year organised by the tourist board’s previous retained consultancy. Her article is scheduled to appear in the Sunday Telegraph this spring.)

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