In2 Summit: 'Clients Care More About Quantity Than Quality'
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Holmes Report
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In2 Summit: 'Clients Care More About Quantity Than Quality'

Holmes Report

SAN FRANCISCO—Public relations people need to develop more human relationships with reporters and avoid “scripted” pitches, Mashable reported Chris Taylor told the audience at our first In2 (Insight + Innovation) Summit in San Francisco this morning. Speaking on a panel focused on “Fixing the Broken Agency Model,” sponsored by Inner Circle Labs, Taylor emphasized that any new model needed to take into account the needs of three parties—the client, the agency and the reporter. Julie Crabill, founder and CEO of Inner Circle, kicked off the discussion that “PR people are people-pleasers, and we want to make everyone happy. The problem with that is that you don’t always earn the client’s respect.” The ensuing conversation made it clear that without that respect, managing expectations—and connecting clients and their products with the relevant media—becomes incredibly difficult. Taylor began with a frequently-heard complaint about PR people. “There’s a PR person I will not name, who is pursuing me right now to write about a certain company. She’s calling me up and leaving me these long scripted voicemails. It’s just dull and it makes me less likely to write about the company, because I am wondering, why this is so scripted and whether there is something to hide.” One reason for these scripted pitches, according to Nicole Jordan, CEO of Radix Collective, is that “one problem is we don’t know the product. We get you on the phone and you start asking more detailed questions and we don’t have the answer, and we say, ‘we’ll get back to you,’ and that’s just a waste of your time.” Many clients, panelists agreed, don’t understand the need to share more information, to take the PR agency team inside the company, to meet with the development team. Jordan made the case that agencies need to understand when to turn clients away. “We see agencies who are afraid they are never going to get more new business and so they take whatever comes in.” Catherine Cook, PR manager of Zappos, approves. “We like agencies who are selective about who they work with.” “One issue is that the people who are making the decision about what client to take are not the people who are going to work on the account,” says Crabill. “And they are making decisions based on whether they have bandwidth and the client has the money.” But the onus is ultimately on the people who are making those decisions, who are the leaders of their agencies. “Those people have a responsibility, if you own an agency, to help the young ones grow up. If you’re just producing under pressure, you are training people in bad habits.” Some of the blame must rest with the clients, however. “Clients care more about quantity than quality.” “We have agencies who are the PR equivalent of content farms,” says Taylor. “With certain agencies, it feels as if they approach every startup they pitch in the same way, with the same angle. It’s too slick and there’s no soul in it. There are agencies that I get an email from them I sort of steel myself. They may have clients I have to write about. But you write one story, and it’s like when you give to a charity and you keep getting more and more pitches.” Instead, Taylor says he wants “Anything that feels human. I want to feel like there’s a human being at the other end. I want to feel like I am having a conversation.” Zite chief executive Mark Johnson made the same pitch: “All sides of the triangle—the client, the agency, the media—need to sit down over a meal or a beer and communicate. That’s where some of the best ideas come from.” And finally, there was a widespread agreement that the problem also includes the medi. “Part of problem is media,” says Johnson. “When you are on deadline today to turn two, three or four stories a day, media people don’t get as much time to fact check. A junior report from Tech Crunch is just turning out stories quick as they can. Part of the problem is that media itself if broken.” Some of the PR industry’s bitterness about double-standards emerged at this point. As Crabill pointed out: “We are crucified if there are a couple of typos in a press release, but the media turns out stories without fact-checking and that’s just how it is.” The answer, says Jordan, is that PR people need to be less reliant on the media. “With the rise of content creation, we can become reporters ourselves. This is the PR person’s market to lose. Media is not the only audience we should be focused on. PR people need to understand other ways of getting their message out there.”  
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