Why spreadsheets are where we really need cut-through

Amidst the expected mix of caution and optimism about how the PR industry might fare during 2013, much has been made of the bigger picture level stuff and how it will affect us.

The economy, of course.

PR continuing to gain ground compared to other marketing disciplines because of media change and a need for trusted transparency.

The need to secure and develop integrated, progressive skills in agency teams.

The quest for powerful, creative content and the growth areas that come with it.

So it seems a bit wierd to be narrowing the focus to the humble spreadsheet. But make no bones about it, while it can be a useful tool for basic project planning and list-keeping, the much-maligned spreadsheet is no friend of public relations.

Because more often than not, it restricts us rather than helping to organise our output. Or outcomes.

The reason is simple – spreadsheets are the tools used to manage how budgets are apportioned, and how people are assigned to manage those budgets, accoridng to conventional marketing assertions and legacy financial structures. And in modern, progressive public relations, that model is broken.

We’re able to provide much more valuable, integrated and commercially-tuned public relations today than ever before, yet the approach taken to structuring many budgets was borne in the age of (predominantly) media relations. Forward-thinking clients tend to ignore or overcome those constraints and combine the media relations line item with others in order to provision PR services more effectively. But surely there has to be an easier way then bending or ignoring budget structures to fit commercial needs? Shouldn’t commercial needs – as well as new opportunities – govern how we structure budgets?

And because the budgets are orchestrated from finance departments that way, so too do job functions and responsibilities within communications and marketing teams. How many times have you heard from a client recently that while X is officially their job title, they end up doing work across many other disciplines, in an effort to be better integrated?

We’re tethered to spreadsheets that tie us to the past, to convention and to a narrow view of PR that no longer gives much scope for cut-through.

We should be cutting through spreadsheets, and slicing through the way they’ve served to keep PR in a media relations box for too long. Because without that, genuine cut-through will always be harder to come by.

And rather than always seeking comfort and familiarity, finance teams should be asking the question of how each line item aligns to commercial requirements, rather than to established conventions.

Besides, I can never get those formulae to work properly anyway.

  • Penny Smits

    Lorna, as a former Journo, turned PR, I love this list! Oh, to see things from the other side of the fence :)

  • Lorna Gozzard

    Thanks Penny – am relieved to hear that and will take it as high praise! I’m sure a bit of seeing things from both sides of the fence would do us all the world of good….

  • Chris Dixon

    We’re always happy to get a decent tale sent in. But in my 17 years in journalism, I can say 99 per cent of releases that come from PRs have little or no relevance to the newspapers I’ve worked on.

    A large number have statistical data in them for other geographical areas. Journalists should not be rude to a PR – but they consider it indirect rudeness when the person in question has done very little research on the title they want to send a release to. Not tailoring part of a release to a specific title is a crime.

    And as for embargoes, do PRs really look at the deadlines for the intended publication they are sending the release to? In my experience, releases are sent out far too often with a ‘one size fits all’ approach. A weekly publication will rightly not use a release embargoed until the day after it prints, especially when it gives a daily or rival weekly title the ability to print the story first. Think – is an embargo really necessary, or is it really worth antagonizing a title?

    We can’t exist without each other, and I think this is a great forum for us to understand better each others’ needs.

    Bring on the honesty!

    • Lorna Gozzard

      I’m certainly not saying the relationship is always perfect from both sides, and it’s obviously disappointing that’s your experience – I was just trying to redress the balance a little, as most of the stuff out there tends to focus on journalist feedback. As you say, both sides need each other, so it’s good to get a debate going – thanks for the comment!

  • Mark Parry

    Totally agree with these Lorna, and yes as a PRO I can admit that there are faults on both sides. The big one for me is journalists getting annoyed when PROs can’t / don’t want to provide case studies / interviewees at the last minute. The publication / angle / audience might not meet the organisation’s media objectives. They don’t have to take part. Here are some more:

    Journalists:

    Showing up at interviews without researching the story. 
    Asking for a statement with zero deadline, getting it and then not using it. 
    Putting a negative spin on a story that was intended to be positive.

    Press Officers:

    Asking to approve copy.
    Sending a press release and then not answering the phone 10 minutes later / not providing contact details at all. 
    Attaching press releases to emails as a PDF and not even mentioning what it’s about in the body of the email.
    Agreeing to meet a deadline and then not. 
    Following up a press release with a phone call 10 minutes later asking if the journalist has received it and if they are going to use it. Come on, would you like that phone call!? 

    That’s enough!! I agree with Chris Dixon’s comment as well. We need each other, so let’s be honest and make things better on both sides. 

    • Lorna Gozzard

      Thanks Mark – great contribution to the debate!

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