Heritage PR and why some agencies are hell

If I’m asked to work with a PR agency one of the first things that I do is start stabbing myself in the eye with pins. Honestly, there is nothing more utterly dispiriting to me than hearing that a brand manager has hired a PR agency for me to work with, and that they’ve paid them more than my car is worth for the privilege. Occasionally I get to work with a PR agency that makes me glad I met them, but in my career they’ve been distressingly rare.

You don’t need a PR agency, or a huge budget. In fact, most of the brand managers that have worked with me before ditch the agencies and just ask what I can get them for what’s left in their budget. The answer is, surprisingly, an awful lot.
Let’s take a hypothetical case study which will bear a startling resemblance to every encounter I’ve ever had with a PR or Comms agency:

Case Study #1
Dave the Brand Manager wants his new light-up toilet seat to get more media coverage, and get some “chatter on social”. He hires a PR agency, and he brings me into his first meeting with them to give them a “deep dive” into the “historicalizatorationism” of the brand. I secretly roll my eyes and attend.

The PR agency are very excited about the illuminated lavatory seat, and they think this could be a great opportunity to create an infographic which they could release to the media under embargo. The PR agency and the brand manager are labouring under the misapprehension that issuing something under an embargo will make it more exciting for the journalists that pick it up or will even, by some miracle, imbue it with a mystery and genius which it does not possess.

The PR agency are “really keen to incorporate the brand’s history into the media release”. In translation this means that they want one photograph of the brand from the 1980s, but it has to be in colour and have a similar aesthetic to the hit show Stranger Things. I explain that the brand is over 150 years old, and that in a weird twist of fate the first ever product review was written by Charles Dickens in his popular magazine; they can do better than a 1980s ad, they can get Charles Dickens.

The PR team don’t like it. None of them have heard of Charles Dickens, and they don’t think that a brand as old as that would resonate with their target millennial audience. It would be better if the brand was created in the 1980s, could I just say that the illuminated loo seat is millennial instead of revealing its real age?

I hand over my soul to the PR agency, help them make their ghastly infographic about the lavatory being a doorway to The Other Side (it’s a Stranger Things joke, just ignore it) and then go back to my archive full of treasures that the world needs to see.

In the end the PR agency put on a presentation (which they charge the brand manager extra for) in which they congratulate themselves for getting almost no media coverage at all, and generating “social chatter” by tweeting one another about toilet seats while traveling to the presentation. Everyone is happy.

Case Study #2
Jane the Brand Manager calls me. She has a few quid left in her budget, but it’s not enough for a PR agency; Jane wants to know if I can do anything with it. I tell her that I can work with it. I the proceed to spend every penny of it on salt and vinegar crisps for myself (which are so numerous they have to be delivered by truck) and then work my magic to get her coverage just like this:











Do you need some magic waved over your brand? Do you have salt and vinegar crisps to offer? Then click on the contacts page and send me a brief. I can’t promise Charles Dickens will be in your brand’s history, but I can promise never to use the words “deep dive” or “millennial” and still build you a good plan.

3 thoughts on “Heritage PR and why some agencies are hell

  • 18th May 2018 at 9:31 am

    I enjoyed reading this! Working in the ‘industry’ (not PR mind), I deal with these people on a regular basis so it made me laugh. I had no idea you did this type of consultancy – useful to know.

    • 18th May 2018 at 9:59 am

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I’m loving your website; very, very chic. Although I’m struggling to reconcile our online personae with the memory of us both in 7EC back in the 1990s when we had to wear the same green and blue clothes, and I needed to copy your maths homework because I still didn’t know how to count. As I remember it, you did know how to count (very well, in fact) and I think this should have indicated to me that you were always destined to have the more professional website of the two of us.

      I’m reading your blog and have just seen that Disneyland is now on Google Street View. I’ve never been to any of the Disney attractions, but I think I’m going to while away many an afternoon on the balcony with a coffee and the Snow White soundtrack scrolling around the Magic Kingdom like a goggle-eyed loon. If I never get any work done again I’ll be able to trace the cause back to your blog!

      • 18th May 2018 at 10:53 am

        I can’t take all the credit for the website – its just about bossing around talented designers and developers really. I don’t think that I’ve ever purchased a top that has that Helenswood green glow to it. In fact, its probably one of those suppressed reasons that I dislike green clothing altogether.

        Enjoy your Disney experience. It is Friday after all.

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