PR boss blows it on telly

In watching last week’s BBC documentary on social class the irony of seeing the head of a top British public relations agency Modus Publicity get raked over the coals by reporter Richard Bilton did not escape those of us in the business

According to PR Week, Julian Vogel, Modus’ director ‘inadvertently played a starring role’ in the documentary. In it, the PR pro was forced to admit that his firm employed up to 20 staff working as unpaid interns at any one time.

You’d think the head of a top PR agency would have been better prepared for such a high profile interview. This is PR 101, and it seems unbelievable that Vogel took such a chance…but he did.

He looked a bit like a deer in the headlights when realised what direction the interview was taking. You’d have felt sorry for him if he wasn’t the director of a firm who purports to “offer innovative and effective media access to our clients, building strategies and brand awareness and creating new approaches to PR promotion.”

One the most important jobs we do as public relations professionals is to ensure our spokespersons are fully prepared before any media interview.

My own approach is to work with clients on honing messages, anticipating questions and understanding specific media requirements. This usually requires about a full day’s training session covering both communication and media theory and a number of practical exercises.

Once the spokesperson is fully trained and confident in the role, the next thing for a PR is to do is the leg work necessary to understand the story a reporter is after, what his or her personal style is, what axes are grinding, who else is involved in the story, etc. It’s called ‘doing your homework’. If you’re not 100% sure of how the story will play out, it’s best not to field a spokesperson.

This is as basic as PR gets.

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Sherrilynne Starkie is a consultant at PDMS. For almost 18 years, Sherrilynne has been advising blue-chip organisations on both sides of the pond, covering Britain, Canada and the United States. For three years, Sherrilynne was the Tech Talk columnist for the Isle of Man newspapers. She serves on the steering committee for Isle of Man Women in Business, is on the Executive Council for the Isle of Man Junior Chamber of Commerce. In the past she was on the management committee for the Isle of Man British Computer Society and the marketing committee of Junior Achievement.