cranberry-harvestYesterday I read an article titled, “90 percent of PR firms add no value.” My friend Jeff Mello sent it to me wanting my opinion on it and (I think) wanting me to get fired up.

The truth of the matter is, I agree (sorry Jeff!).

The article, which can be found at The Business Insider, states:

“I’ve worked as a senior corporate communications exec for three Fortune 500 companies and I’m confident in saying that 90 percent of PR firms add no value.”

I tell this story a lot, so if you’ve heard it, bear with me.

When I worked at Fleishman-Hillard in Kansas City, I was on the Ocean Spray account. I loved working on that business. It was a large account and we were doing communication for cranberry juice, which was an easy sell because of the health benefits. We created a campaign calling “The Art of the Ocean Spray Harvest” and commissioned three photographers to depict the cranberry harvest in British Columbia, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts (if you ever visit my office, you’ll see three of the commissioned photos framed on my walls).

It was a great campaign. Not only did we create a traveling art gallery, but we were able to sell photos (framed and unframed), postcards, stationery, and other trinkets with the cranberry harvest depicted and donated the proceeds to America’s Second Harvest. We gave away tons of samples of juice that year. We worked with city officials. We worked with art galleries in many major cities. And we worked hand-in-hand with the charity.

At the end of the program, we very proudly presented our results to the client. Three six inch binders full of stories that had run, gallons and gallons of juice given away, thousands of dollars donated to the charity…and then it happened.

The client looked at everything very patiently and then shrugged her shoulders and said, “This is great. But our sales are down and this very expensive PR program did nothing for us. We can’t afford to keep you guys on next year.”

WHAT?! All that work. Fourteen weeks of travel. THREE six inch binders full of stories. And we’re being fired?

That was the beginning of the end of my time at FH and the beginning of the time that I began to think there has to be a better way. Now when I hear, “We can’t guarantee results” or “We can’t make the media write your story” it makes my skin crawl.

The truth of the matter is, especially in today’s digital age, the right communication CAN affect the growth of your business. So if you hire us and we tell you news releases don’t work, it’s because we’re not publicists and your company or your CEO getting an ego stroke because we got you three six-inch binders full of stories isn’t going to affect business growth. It’s also because we’re not going to distribute a bunch of news releases, let the wires pick them up, and then tell you we did our jobs. It doesn’t work. Period.

I always say I love it when other PR people make us look good. I also love it when people change careers and go into PR because “it seems so easy.” I say have at it because you’re going in that 90 percent that add no value, leaving room for the 10 percent of us who run businesses AND do communication so we know how, and how not, to affect sales.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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