Feature: Does your PR measure up?

Laura Brown recently published a blog on AP about the changing role of PR contacts in our fast-shifting media landscape. Laura reflects on the PR question: ‘who is your best contact?’ It has made me think about the view from the other side of the PR fence – someone who receives those press releases.

In pre-show discussions and over interval drinks the one subject that crops up time and time again, when talking to fellow arts correspondents and critics, is the service we receive from press officers and PR companies. While a good press officer can make life so much easier, sadly the talk is often of a more negative aspect. Tales of emails and phone calls that go unanswered, press releases that get sent late, issues with images and problems with tickets are common place.

The subject is becoming slightly more complex, with venues turning to external PR companies to either supplement their own in-house press and marketing, or even handle the entire operation. Laura’s question of ‘Who is your best contact?’ then becomes more acute. While a local press officer builds relationships and knowledge of the changing faces of local media, does a PR agency based in another part of the country have that same knowledge? Is their ‘best contact’ actually the right contact?

The sales pitch from PR agencies often sounds tempting – a wealth of contacts, industry knowledge and the ability to tap into the latest trends in technology and communication. But how do you check the glossy sales pitch actually delivers a service that enhances, not damages your brand?

Measuring success on column inches of coverage may be one popular method of capturing the return on your investment but it is only one part of the story.

Here’s a bold suggestion – why not ask your arts correspondents and critics what they think of the service your PR company provides? After all, they are the people most likely to have interaction with the company and the service received can either make their job easier, hopefully securing you more coverage or, in some cases, can make things so complicated that what is a potential story gets filed away under BIN.

Like many unsung heroes, when PR works well it tends to go unnoticed but handled badly it can make even the most interesting angle hard work. Writers don’t have the time or resources to constantly chase your PR company for information, yet some PRs make life as difficult as possible for someone wanting to cover their client’s production.

I have blogged on AP before about the importance of press officers talking to critics – to find out what works for them and what doesn’t. It is also time to include them in discussions over your use of outside PR and, as Laura suggests, test their knowledge of who actually is the best contact for your product.

Originally written for Arts Professional Magazine

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