The Economist gets hooked by PR pitch to hype PR industry

Summary:

Public relations can deliver value to most companies but will always be a non-essential element of sales and marketing budgets.

Richard Edelman

It’s natural that PR pros continually hype their (okay our) own importance. Unless companies need them to solve an urgent, unforeseen problem, public relations agencies must engage in a never-ending struggle to prove that they can have a positive impact on sales and profits. PR industry journals and agency promotional materials are full of tomes about how the value of credible press can’t be matched by advertising.

But it is unusual when a reporter for The Economist arbitrarily spins selective data to echo the hackneyed claims of every agency pitching for a bigger share of the marketing budget. In an article titled Good news, the anonymous reporter writes: “The recession has increased corporate demand for PR, analysts say, and enhanced the industry’s status.”

Articulation of the “Good news” is delivered by flackdom’s leading scion Richard Edelman, who told The Economist, “We used to be the tail on the dog. But now, PR is the organizing principle behind many business decisions.”

To prove Edelman’s claim, the article cites statistics. In the manner of a great news release, the most important information is omitted so that the story strongly affirms the “Good news.” The reporter writes how  “remarkable” it is that PR spending in the U.S. grew by “3% in 2009 to $3.7 billion” while “spending on advertising contracted by nearly 3% in 2008 and by 8% in the past year.”  The omitted (intentionally?) fact is that despite its setbacks U.S. advertising media revenues alone (not counting creative spending) remain at around $150 billion a year. The remarkable PR spending is less than 3% of that.

What’s more telling is that online digital advertising, which didn’t even exist 15 years ago, is now a $40 billion industry. Four companies all by themselves in one industry — Verizon, AT&T Wireless, Sprint & T-Mobile — spent more money on advertising in 2009 that was spent by every company in the country on PR.

A really cynical suggestion would be that the PR spending increase resulted solely from intense efforts of auto companies, health insurers and financial institutions to be perceived as slightly less than evil.

PR is a valuable function, but it does not drive markets on a consistent day-to-day basis and it never will.  It appears that The Economist — for whatever reason — got hooked by a slick PR pitch.  Their readers have been misled and the magazine has delivered ammunition to agencies everywhere looking to pump up their own worth.

John RibblerMedia Pro, Inc.