Bruce Buschel’s column, You’re the Boss, recently took on the PR industry (see “The Problem with Public Relations“) and I have to say, it made me raise an eyebrow.

The problem wasn’t with public relations. It was with communication.


Agency/client communication is the cornerstone of any campaign. It’s really just that simple. In my day job, I couldn’t do my job successfully without keeping in touch with the client. Everyone has to be on the same page. Everyone has to have a clear understanding of what the end goal is and how we’ll get there. In this column, all the writer does is bitch about the frustrations of not having a clear end goal or path.

Where was the planning? Where was the communication? Where were those realistic expectations?

Nowhere. Nowhere to be found and that’s why it’s now it’s a rant in The New York Times. It was a mere failure in communication between PR agency and client.

The comments echo this sentiment. Here’s a sampling:

“PR is like quicksilver, it’s hard to grab hold of and it’s even harder to quantify its value. And like any profession, there are good PR people and bad PR people. But my take on your situation is that you were victim of you’re own impatience and internal buzz. A good PR person would have told you from the beginning that it’s impossible ‘to instantly create a name and a brand.’ PR is a slog, not a sprint. The public is skeptical of instant celebrity, with good reason. If I were your PR person I would advise you to slow down your expectations, and work towards a solid reputation built on actual results.” – Trillian, New York City

“I’ve read your post two times looking for clues as to what went wrong and some questions come to mind: What was spelled out in the contract as it relates to deliverables? In the first case, why so much money spent with nothing to show for it? In the second, was it clear as could be that you would receive an evaluation after the fact and why that would be a good thing? At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, it sounds like: ‘what we have here is a failure to communicate.'” – Libbie Hough, Hillsborough, NC

Taking all of this into account, any good PR person (and client) can walk away with some good points:

  1. Make sure expectations are set. Early.
  2. Communication is a MUST. Don’t let it break down. Otherwise, rants like this one happen.
  3. Make sure both you and the client understands the end goal and how you’ll get there.
  4. Be specific when it comes to deliverables.
  5. Have a plan. Ask questions. Do your research.  A successful campaign takes preparation. Plus, having the substance to back it up helps both you and the client when the question of justification comes up.
  6. Take the time to evaluate. If there’s one thing I took away from being in PRSSA, it was that evaluation is so important.

But besides all of these great take-aways,  I think this raises an even more important issue:  communication is taking a beating.

Step Back

In the past year alone, I can’t even tell how many posts or articles I’ve read about the shortcomings of public relations professionals. Actually, communications professionals in general. Advertising. SEO. PR. Bloggers. Each has been taken on with a ferocity that can be quite scary. Now don’t get me wrong, there are problems in every industry and these just happen to be the ones of the moment,  but I have to say that few have actually taken a step back and said:

Poor communication is the problem.

Both clients and agencies are at fault. We’ve seen it happen. I think instead of stories in the New York Times, we should be actually working on the problem of communication. Let’s not bitch about it. Let’s do something about it. Put good communication before tools, success metrics, and all of those other buzzwords that have seem to clouded our core principle: to communicate well.

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