PR and its Fetish

Warning this contains the words NAKED, VIRGIN, FETISH and WOBBLY BITS. And BOLLOCKS (twice)

This started life as a reply to a typically thoughtful piece by Stephen Waddington who wrote about PR’s problem with self-confidence as it does battle for share of budget in a new era when the lines between media channels and who pays for that content to be both produced and appear are getting ever more blurred.

He worries that in this turf war between agencies for share of the cake, PR is lacking in its ability to persuade and command attention and authority.

My response to that is yes, absolutely and I think I know why and where the solution lies.

The PR industry has to face up to a dichotomy and decide one way or the other. It craves respectability, gravitas, authority but it values, even fetishises youth over wisdom and is forever obsessed with the new, new thing rather than asking whether it is the right thing.

This obsession is fuelled by a number of fairly entrenched factors such as:

1) A pyramid agency model that needs lots of young, cheapish people doing as much billable work as possible, hopefully at rates beyond their skill level if the client will stand it

2) A career progression norm that says you’ve got to get as high as possible as fast possible

3) A trade media, awards system (and arguably a buyer mentality) that champions novelty over effectiveness – been on Second Life or Jelly lately? How’s that AR based campaign working out?

4) No industry gold standard CPD system

I am happy disclose that I am 50 so be under no illusion that there is some naked self interest at work here.

The narrative that younger people have better, more relevant, more ‘cut through’ ideas and so should be listened to first, fails on three counts:

The “more experienced” amongst us will know that, you really, really don’t forget how you felt in your teens or twenties. You actually think more about that period in your life more than you did at the time. The number and nature of media outlets available then versus now makes precisely sod all difference to how you feel about love, ambition, belonging and all the other big abstract ideas that brands want to channel in order to “engage” (sell us stuff).

Second, whereas I remember how it feels to get the key to your first flat, your first car, take your first holiday with your girlfriend – the kind of life stage vignette so beloved of marketers – someone in their 20s can’t possibly know how it feels to face the big milestones of later life – the sudden freedom of post parenthood, post mortgage, or on the downside, your parents needing care or the reality of your body not being quite the dumping ground for all manner of fun toxins it once was.

This is a foreign country to these people, they are not natives. I on the other hand, have two passports, their land and mine.

Thirdly, my generation has all the cash, we buy cars, holidays, big tellys, clothes to hide our wobbly bits, all sorts of shit to help us sustain youth. We earn more and are not so saddled by debt or rent. Marketers should be all over us but we are spoken to by people fumbling with an unfamiliar language.

Here’s an example.

Yesterday Virgin Money launched the Never Mind the Bollocks credit card.

I have a feeling that some brand manager looked at the data and worked out that the core demographic came of age in the punk era and that this would “engage” with them.

It’s dad-dancing in reverse.

It’s patronising bollocks and anyone who experienced the creativity, excitement and originality of punk – in other words, the core target for this product, is laughing at it.

Great job.

So here’s the thing, if you want better outcomes in your PR or communications programmes work with people who know how to respond with the authentic voice of experience.

With authenticity comes authority and the confidence to challenge in order to get to the right answer and to Stephen’s point, the right share of budget in the turf war.

Mix it with the optimism, energy and willingness to risk that is youth’s priceless value, but assuming that those qualities alone will guarantee success is not borne out by….experience.

There you have it Stephen, the answer to the question you posed. How can PR be more self confident? Be more experienced. You can either wait for it to happen to you or you can buy it now.

Second Life anyone…?


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