Is Sorrell right to damn (gin-soaked) public relations?

Sir Martin Sorrell (below) seems to have made a new brigade of enemies by branding PR as, inter alia, defined by “press releases,” (fair enough), “gin-soaked lunches” (didn’t have too many of those pre-lockdown) and “analogue” (has this man no mercy?)

Now the prospect of being monstered by gin-soaked PR types (assuming they exist) probably isn’t too terrifying for the combative knight but his remarks maybe point to an existential crisis for the PR “industry.”

It was a big part of Sorrell’s former empire at WPP of course and Sorrell himself is an assiduous PR performer, turning up for conferences and broadcast interview opportunities whenever he can (or could, of course.) Back in the day he used to instal himself at his usual table at the Connaught Hotel in London’s Mayfair, there to greet a stream of hacks who would self-consciously order the bacon and eggs while he nibbled a grapefruit.

Social media (of which he’s mostly in favour) has well and truly bust the old communication routine of client to PR to journalist (gin-soaked or otherwise.) Many clients now prefer to do their own public relations via Twitter, YouTube and the like. So, in a way, he’s right about analogue.

But actually credible PR people do assist proper journalists, so long as they don’t fill their communications with self-serving guff (why are we thinking of ad tech companies here?)

A sensible client would divide his or her PR budget into earned and paid parts, the earned to disseminate genuinely interesting and newsworthy material, the paid for sponsored editorial (I know this sounds self-serving – it is) where you would still have the opportunity to reach the same readers but with a sales pitch. It would help the media too.

PR companies hate this because they see it as eating their lunch (correctly to a degree but there’s still paid work to do in organising it all.)

Is this what Sorrell had in mind? Very much doubt it – he probably thinks the PR budget should go to MediaMonks – but there you go.

As for the gin, that’s a little analogue on his part.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.