Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Command and Control PR: Sathnam Sanghera, writing in today’s Financial Times (hat tip to reader Mark Pinsent in London, who sent me the link even before I received my news alert from the FT) suggests that the growing power of PR people might be the reason CEOs are less willing to talk to him than they used to be. And since he writes with his usual good humor and fairness (“As with journalists, I have found that some PRs are excellent, while others have the charm and wherewithal of baboons”) it is probably worth paying attention.

I’m in Athens right now, speaking at a conference on Homo Consumerus, and on the flights here I managed to read most of Robert Scoble and Shel Israel’s Naked Conversations, in which much is made of the “command and control” school of public relations, which the authors insist is being rendered redundant by the transparency of the Internet.

I was planning to offer a mild rebuke in my eventual review, to the effect that good PR people have always understood the importance of transparency and that any PR that attempts to exercise “command and control” is and always has been just bad PR. But Sanghera’s piece made me realize that my idealized view of this business ignores the fact that many (perhaps most) PR people do try to control access to the CEOs, often to an absurdly trivial level: “Last year, for a pretty inconsequential piece on executive cars, I called around the offices of eight leading chief executives to find out what vehicles they were driven in. All but two declined to comment.”

In most cases, I guess, the PR folks are just doing what their CEOs want, but the result is that in the cause of avoiding controversy they strip away any sense that the company is a collection of (flawed) human beings and reinforce the notion that it’s a huge, faceless, emotionless collective: the Borg. This does the company no favors. And those who practice PR this way are going to find it very difficult to adapt over the next few years.

2 Comments:

  • At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Andrea Weckerle said…

    The perhaps unofficial role of some PR professionals as gatekeepers was reflected in BL Ochman’s February 3 post about her interview with tagged.com’s CEO. Contrast that with YFly’s young CEO, who decided to speak with me openly, candidly, and without his PR team present. It’s a two-way street, in my opinion: PR folks need to know when to back off, and company leaders need to know when to go it alone (assuming they’ve been trained in how to speak to the media).

     
  • At 8:59 PM, Anonymous shel israel said…

    Thanks you for these kind comments about our book. In fact, I practiced PR for over 20 years and feel that led a highly ethical life. But commanding and controlling message was what I was expected to do. It was and is the standard operating practice of most of the PR industry. There were reasons why this all made sense for a great many years. But now times are changing and PR agencies are in the path of an enormous disruption thathas gobe too far to stop.

     

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