what's the problem with PR?

In a recent post, Shel Holtz discusses a controversy in Kansas City over their (total of $2 million) contracts with 4 PR companies. Councilwoman Becky Nace thinks there could be a better use for that money.

The controversy, from Shel’s perspective, centers around one weakness:

The problem is with a public relations industry that has been unable to educate people like her about the value PR can bring to an organization, institution, even a city. (Even the local newspaper—usually one of the first to slam PR—found there was worth in the agencies’ efforts.) That’s why I concluded, “We in the PR profession need to do a better job of spotlighting the positive work we do that is so much more than the what the public perceives: spinmeisters trying to get the public to drink our clients’ Kool-Aid.”

So my question is: how do we resolve this?

Author: Paloma Cruz

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4 thoughts on “what's the problem with PR?”

  1. Paloma … I think the complaint in this case is probably more about the total cost of the program than about the need for PR.

    Doesnt’ $2 million sound like an awful lot of money to educate people about sewers??

  2. Well, $2 million sounds like a lot, period. But I live in a city where the council members gripe about how much gets spent on a lot of things. It’s always a matter of perspective.

    A few years ago I read two articles in the Houston Chronicle on the same day. In one, city council was denouncing the local library for asking for more money in the budget — their total operating budget was less than $35 million a year, less than it had been in nearly five years (or something like that), and they were explaining why they had to cut hours again. In another article, it discussed the fact that the police department was going to be $150 million short of their operating budget, and city council was trying to raise more money for them by cutting into other departments’ budgets.

    The difference is that to city council, and the public, $150 million more spent on public safety made sense. Another million on books didn’t. And yet, both expenses were probably needed and equitable.

    What does the public value? $2 million spent on swaying public opinion doesn’t seem like good value. It’s not a tangible thing, not something that people can eat or drink. And, spent on a professional service most people don’t understand to begin with, that really seems an unfortunate way to spend $2 million.

  3. One of the tools I love using to measure the value of PR is cost-avoidance. A consortium of oil and engineering companies spent $250,000 building a website in the early days to offer up transparency around their work in the Peruvian rainforest. Why spend that much? Because if the Rainforest Action Network targeted the project, the costs could run into the hundreds of millions. (Ask Mitsubishi.)

    By building community consensus and getting buy-in upfront, Kansas City may well have saved itself a whole lot more if citizen coalitions sued to stop the project in mid-construction. I’d like to give the managers who thought PR was necessary the benefit of the doubt, that they knew what they were paying for. They may have had experience with public reaction to such projects, or have heard rumblings that led them to decide action was necessary. And if, indeed, building that community consensus does preclude an expensive and divisive court battle down the road, the cost is a bargain.

    Just another way to look at it.

  4. I wrote on this here: http://www.strumpette.com/archives/137-2-million-in-Public-Education-Monies-Literally-Down-the-Drain.html

    The gist of my commentary was:

    In a bold article titled, “It’s easy to dismiss PR if you don’t know what PR does,” Shel Holtz of Concord, CA, thinks Nace is all wrong. Shel says, “In other words, the agencies are charging $100 to $150 per hour to create community understanding, dialogue, participation, involvement, and support for a project that otherwise could devolve into a public brouhaha. That’s the kind of work that PR people do that goes largely unrecognized while unethical behaviors employed by the minority of practitioners get all the attention. If Kansas City had the resources internally, they wouldn’t have to hire agencies. But work like this tends to be project-based. Ms. Nace doesn’t understand, though, noting that when she dies, she wants to be reincarnated as a consultant so she can earn $150 an hour.”

    Shel, what are you smokin’? How can you be so presumptuous as to think you know better sitting in California than a Councilwoman about her affairs in Kansas City. If you had any commentary to add, it would have been far more honest of you to tell her what you charge an hour.

    Lastly, as to the title of your commentary… I’ve been in this business for almost 20 years and I have no clue what you do.

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