When PR Stops Working

May 29, 2007 Public Relations 14 comments

Got this interesting post by Guy Kawasaki which explains why PR doesn’t work in certain situations. According to the PRSite.com’s Margie Zable Fisher, the top 10 reasons are:

1) The client doesn’t understand the publicity process.

2) The scope of work is not detailed and agreed upon by both parties.

3) The client has not been properly trained on how to communicate with the media.

4) The client and the PR person or firm are not a good match.

5) The client has not gotten results quickly enough and ends the relationship too soon.

6) PR people don’t explain the kind of publicity placements a client will most likely receive.

7) Clients don’t realize that what happens after you get the publicity coverage is sometimes more important than the actual placement.

8) Clients refuse to be flexible on their story angles.

9) Clients get upset when the media coverage is not 100% accurate or not the kind of coverage that they wanted.

10) Clients won’t change their schedules for the media.

(more details are in the link here)

Notice that most of the reasons above seem to point the finger back to the client, thus absolving the PR agency of most of the responsibility for PR success. While I do agree with most of the points above, one must also realise that there are two other parties in the equation: the media and the PR consultant.

Any effective PR strategy needs to look at the relationships, processes and dynamics that all three parties have with each other. Just pointing the finger at the client alone will not solve the problem if there isn’t enough effort to educate him or her.

In addition, understanding and working together must be a two-way win-win thing. While publicity is good, it isn’t the be-all and end-all in the business world. Sometimes, one needs to see if one’s business strategy and tactics lends itself favourably to publicity or should employ other approaches instead.

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. As a PR practitioner, Margie is probably highlighting some of the issues faced when dealing with unreasonable clients – and there quite a lot of those around! ^^

    On the other hand, I do advise clients to keep their ears on the ground, and also build their own relationships with the media. This way, clients will know the media scene well and can also spot if their PR agencies are “winging” it!

  2. Oh no! Now I’m feeling really scared. I’m supposed to be heading the PR arm of a communications company soon and this is shooting my confidence to the ground. urgh.p

  3. hello Walter, we met at Nexus 2007, was introduced by Ben.

    find your entry interesting..and though i would drop my 2 cents.

    another factor that comes into play seriously is the level of internal pressure that spokespersons are placing on comms depts. to hit their KPIs, some companies require spokespersons to do X interviews or get X coverage.

    the world does not work that way anymore most times.

  4. daniel,

    That’s another good practice. Sometimes agencies may not educate their clients enough on what to expect and this results in unpleasant situations.

    I find there is also a difference if your client is say an entrepreneur (usually SMEs) versus an inhouse PR department. Folks who have done PR to a certain extent should know how the media operates, while bosses on the other hand may have a different expectation. Different strokes for different folks I suppose – just don’t treat them like idiots!

  5. dieselfire,

    Thanks for visiting and welcome to the scary world of PR, if it is indeed your first time. I think a lot of it boils down to understanding what makes both the media and newsmakers tick. The key thing is to always maintain cordial and harmonious relationships (the R in PR) while still standing firm sometimes on what makes or breaks a company’s reputation and mindshare.

  6. and the media factor. it’s sometimes pretty tough to ‘predict’ how the media will pick up on PR campaigns, strategies, etc. i rather gauge public reaction than media response.

  7. Before I read your feedback, I have already realised that most of the points were pointing towards the clients than the entire process of publicity.

    His points are valid, but the understanding behind these obstacles are somewhat different from my school of thoughts. Afterall, PR experts are engaged to educate and assist clients in all these situations. If everything is thrown back at clients, why do we still need PR professionals for?

  8. imp,

    Good point there. PR shouldn’t just be about inches but impact. Sometimes a smaller story, if properly nuanced, can be enough to engage the public.

    BTW, are you also in this line of work?

  9. aaronk,

    That’s very true. I guess the iffy nature of PR versus advertising sometimes makes executives more nervy when using it as a communications tool.

    Having said that, I believe that one can generate more publicity if you engage the media more proactively and see it from their points of view. There are tonnes of tricks in the books, which I am sure you are aware of.

    For my next post, I will talk about an ongoing campaign which scored high on awareness and publicity.

  10. natasshea,

    Great to know that. Welcome to the wild, wacky world of PR, where hours are long, heart attacks are plentiful and super heroic acts abundant…. 😉

  11. endoh,

    That’s an astute observation indeed and exactly my point. While there are educated clients who also act as inhouse counsel (like yours truly), others may be desperate “lao bans” who need that extra boost for their business. Hiring the right PR agency to them is critical not just to score media mileage but also for training and education. Making your clients look foolish is never a clever strategy!

  12. i used to be on the agency side. 🙂 and we do get the really dumb clients. however, my agency doesn’t exactly pander to clients’ demands except the targets. we look at hitting the targets and that’s paramount. how we do it, we usually prefer to take the lead rather than the client tell us his wishes. we take that into consideration, of course, but if we know something to be a sure failure, we resist.

  13. imp,

    Nice to know somebody else in this line. Sometimes the best that clients can do is to let go and listen to what the agency recommends. Increasingly though, you do see a mixed bag with folks who have experience in both agency, client and media crossing over to each other’s domain. That makes the dynamics different too.

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