Money and Media - Communications, Connections, Comments

Confessions of a PR manager

The annual Headlinemoney awards poll to find the UK’s best financial public relations executives is due to go live tomorrow. So I thought I’d share a mildly uplifting experience which happened earlier this week. Namely, I received an apology from the PR manager of a major financial institution.

It’s not the first one I’ve ever received (hundreds would be a closer order of magnitude). But I did get the sense that this person was genuinely embarrassed by an oversight he’d made (not always a characteristic synonymous with these situations).

I’d been writing a feature and the PR concerned had proffered some help which then failed to materialise before I filed my copy. This was something of a gaffe given a) he’d had over a week to sort out the material and b) because it was an interesting case study which involved his company.

Although this person had made a blooper, he at least had the good grace to contact me subsequently and ‘fess up to his mistake. He admitted he’d clean forgotten to set the wheels in motion for an interview and realised too late what he’d done.

The easier course of action would have been to keep schtum and hope I hadn’t noticed. I had, of course. But as I already had plenty of other interesting quotes and comment from elsewhere for this article, it wasn’t necessary to follow up this particular offer of help on this occasion. More of an opportunity lost for the company concerned rather than a disadvantage to me.

Sadly, some PRs I’ve come across recently appear to rely on radio silence as their default setting rather than one marked ‘engagement’. Various enquiries I’ve made via the appropriate media relations channel of a well-known racecourse, a leading university and an insurance company each fell on deaf ears initially.

I’m genuinely puzzled by this approach. Mainly because I’m perfectly happy, along with thousands of others, to swerve the charms of a press office altogether if I’m not getting anywhere with it to source the necessary info. First impressions count and sometimes I really do wonder if those running large institutions appreciate the extent to which the silent treatment goes on in their organisation. A company may indeed boast a press/PR department to deal with media enquiries, but how often does management check engagement levels on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis? I’d be interested to hear from folks in the industry on this score.

All of which takes me back to my PR contact from above. Doubtless he was a bit inept and I’m probably guilty of being a bit gullible and possibly even going soft in my dotage (I would have been much less understanding a decade ago). But at least he took the opportunity to communicate when the cards weren’t stacked in his favour.

It’s a talent which will likely serve him and his employers better in the long run compared with those who prefer to ignore simple press enquiries.

Let’s end on a more positive note, because I appreciate the practices described above might be anathema to the many efficient comms practitioners who ply their trade in a more constructive manner.

I mentioned the Headlinemoney PR awards in my introduction. Time and again, the winners in the various categories (as voted for by a large swath of financial journalists and editors) are the ones cited as being pro-active, informative and sympathetic to the needs of financial media. Two-way communications trump the dead end approach, end of story.