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Is there any value in public relations anymore? Our reply to the Financial Times

The Financial Times recently published a thought provoking article titled “Free publicity with no PRs” (subscriber content) which challenged whether public relations support is really needed by companies. Some of the accusations levelled at PR professionals are that they produce “safe” and “bland” messages for their clients and that companies are better off without employing the services of an external PR agency. Several senior executives were quoted saying they manage their company’s media relations internally either directly by the CEO or by empowering various team members to respond on behalf of the company on their specialist subject as part of their overall job responsibilities. What this article failed to address is that those companies who enjoy the benefit of these luxuries, such as a CEO who has the capability, charisma and desire to speak directly with the media without some degree of communications support, are rare. Undoubtedly, the companies fronted by the likes of Richard Branson, Warren Buffett and the late Steve Jobs have an advantage over their competitors simply because their leader is someone who speaks openly, authentically and even amusingly to the media. Any company that’s in a position to confidently put their CEO in front of the media or to share the responsibility of media relations across a team of competent specialists is in an enviable position. But not many companies enjoy these luxuries, which is where PR has a role to play. In the case of Warren Buffett, he has a long-held reputation as an exceptional businessman and a generous philanthropist. His corporate image is already very positive and his influence is enormous. All he needs to do – in addition to continue to succeed at his business affairs – is to sustain his existing reputation. As a result, he has the freedom to pick and choose which media to speak to and they will energetically lap up any access to him. Now compare that to, say, a company that does not already have a profile as a market leader and does not have a CEO with an existing global track record and reputation as one of the richest businesspeople in the world. This company may be entering a new market or releasing a new product that has real potential but they need awareness and help to generate buzz. A skilled PR team can provide invaluable support to a client in this situation, not only by executing a spectacular PR campaign that brings them a lot of media attention, but by advising them on any cultural issues that may not be immediately obvious and helping them to form their business strategy. With international expansion a critical element to many business models these days, a PR team with a local presence can also help a client to overcome any difficulties they may have when expanding – such as language barriers, as well as behaving as the eyes and ears locally – especially if the client doesn’t have the resources to have a full operational workforce on the ground. Cultural differences are also an element that can easily be overlooked but can be critical to global expansion. What may seem like amusing charm from a CEO in one market might be deeply offensive in another and so often it is the PR consultant’s advice which makes the difference between a company’s success and abject failure. At Action, our strength is our local knowledge, teamed with international expertise gained from our wide reach across some of the most exciting developing regions and economies such as the Middle East, North Africa, the CIS countries and Eastern Europe. One of the most unlikely countries where we are seeing high demand for our services is Libya and it’s a tough country, punctuated by conflict and devastation. Doing business in Libya is not easy and so what we offer to our clients is not only traditional PR services, but more importantly campaigns that are designed to reach audiences in a way that would normally be impossible to execute from outside the country. Our team on the ground crucially guides the client as to how to operate their business in such a challenging market, which is ultimately beneficial for the company’s bottom line. PR is often maligned and not always rightly so. Sure, some companies don’t need PR or they don’t need external help with it. Every client is different and PR is not one-size-fits-all. For those countless companies who are facing a business challenge, or for those who just need some extra resources and support to help propel their progress forward, PR continues to have a role to play. Notably, the same FT article also revealed US Bureau of Labor Statistics that project a 12 percent growth in the PR sector between 2012 and 2022. PR is far from dead and for those companies who are savvy enough to see the worth of PR, we look forward to working with you.

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