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“Gatvol with PR people!”

PR practitioners are shooting themselves in the foot these days! "Gatvol with PR people" is the gist of the responses that I have received from two potential clients in as many days.

In both instances, the criticism centred on the lack of adequate publicity generated (in one case, it was one published article in two months), and scant implementation of an approved strategy. What's more, the criticism was not only directed at a one-person show, but also an established agency.

As you can imagine, not only was this embarrassing but also infuriating. Embarrassing because this is the industry that I now represent, after several years as a journalist and news editor, and infuriating because my own colleagues within the industry are negating the points scored in the PR versus Advertising debate over the past approximately 50 years.

There can be several reasons for the lack of publicity achieved in the above-mentioned cases. Either the press releases issued were too poorly written, targeted at the wrong publication, issued at the wrong time, or not enough work had gone into first building a relationship with the appropriate journalists. At the previous company I worked at, management always made mention of the shotgun and rifle approach when issuing a release. With a shotgun, the more you distance yourself from the target, the wider the spread of bullets, whereas with a rifle, you take careful aim and then, if you're a good shot, you get a bull's eye.

As a news editor, I was constantly amazed by the lack of strategic planning apparent in some of the press releases received. Even if there was some relevance, the release was just so poorly packaged that I wasn't able to motivate myself to work with it! Of course, I would not hesitate to go that extra mile for the PR agencies that had made an effort to build and nurture a relationship with me and I have a vivid recollection of two such agencies. In actual fact, it was one of these two companies that I later joined.

It is, by the way, very disturbing to note that many PRISA qualified PR practitioners still cannot write a decent press release. Personally, I feel this organisation is highly overrated but, nevertheless, it performs a valuable service in terms of regulating the industry. Needless to say, I don't have a PRISA qualification and don't intend forking out the huge amount of money to get one when I have acquired my own knowledge through hard work, experience, observation, reading and a willingness to learn.

At this stage I am pretty much a one-woman show but not the kind that drafts a press release across the kitchen table, as was made reference to on this site recently. Success does not necessarily have anything to do with the size of the PR agency but rather the strategic insight and planning that goes into the operation of the business, rendering a 100% quality service and building a meaningful relationship with your clients. In fact, I believe that, at this stage, I am able to provide tough competition to any company servicing a small to medium-sized client, as I not only have the relevant experience, knowledge and skills but every client is a valuable one from a make-or-break point of view. You can, therefore, bet your bottom dollar that I will be putting every effort into delivering a value-added service.

With regard to companies failing to implement approved strategies, well, perhaps one of the main reasons for this is that companies often find themselves juggling time and loyalty between a huge number of, often conflicting, portfolios. This is so unfortunate when we, as the industry, are trying to persuade clients to allocate a bigger slice of their budget to PR, as opposed to advertising, which is highly visible and in your face. It is imperative that, as PR practitioners, we ensure that our proposed strategies are exactly that – strategic input, and that the successes that we are promising and delivering are indeed measurable (not only in terms of per column centimetres), as well as meaningful. It is only then that we can ensure the sustainable growth of the industry.

About Anthea Abraham

Anthea Abraham is MD of Pro Media and Voice Services, providing an integrated solution for a company's media needs. This includes PR/Communication strategy origination, development and implementation, as well as media and voice training. She was previously employed by one of SA's top PR agencies in Johannesburg and is a former television, radio and print journalist/presenter and news editor. Email: .

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