How to build an outsourced and offshored PR program, and what is Bernays sauce

Can any "dope, any nitwit, and any idiot call him or herself a public relations practitioner?"

The grandfather of public relations was an American chap called Edward L. Bernays. In an interview conducted in honor of his 100th birthday back in 1992, he said that, "Any dope, any nitwit, and any idiot can call him or herself a public relations practitioner." Now, that may well be the case, but the truth is that building a brand is becoming harder and harder. It’s becoming harder and harder, because the complexity of self-distribution means that it’s no longer just a matter of ringing one or two journalists and getting a story. Now, one has to think about creating content consistently that is compelling, and not just across what is called earned media, newspapers, and TV, and so on that has an editor, but across one’s owned media channels. 

Over 55% of all content appearing in mainstream news press is produced by PR agencies and consultants, so people in this industry have an influence far and wide due to the prevalence of information on people’s mobile devices at home and work. Public relations then has become something that can’t be left to a dope nor a nitwit nor an idiot. By definition, it is the effort deliberately planned and supported to establish and maintain a mutual understanding between an organization or its public, and those being the internal or team, allies or partners, and customer groups. The question is, how can a company that is founded by a managing director who may be good at a particular skill then have the skill sets to manage the public relations as well? The answer is, with a few exceptions, they don’t have those skills which, then, is why people turn to those individuals and agencies that have the skills and engage with them. A solution to that is outsourcing PR, but also creating a blended solution, because not everybody has the ability or the desire to outsource their PR. The company may not be ready, or you feel as though no one understands the business well enough, and therein lies the rut. 

Do’s and don’t’s when outsourcing

Ever since the laws of comparative advantage, different countries and different companies have got different advantages and different skill sets, so outsourcing is actually an economics term, not a communications term. But as seen starting in the mid-1980s with companies like Kodak shifting all their IT to IBM, outsourcing on a corporate scale has left companies focusing increasingly on their core competence, and often, communications is not the company’s core competence. It’s innovation, unless of course it’s an agency. The point the key parts of the PR that can be outsourced, because not all of it can be.

First of all, outsourcing marketing to any agency, be it in advertising, direct marketing, or PR, is not an abdication of responsibility. Too often, clients complain about the quality of work of ab agency, but the agency exists, is profitable, and surviving, because they know what they’re doing. The saying is that you’re as good as the brief that you’re given, so if you’re going to work with an agency, then think about the complexity of the work and create a process that enables management of the agency, because public relations and media relations are often undervalued and the complexity of the work is oversimplified by clients. Clients sometimes treat the agency or consultant with almost contempt and slightly resent paying the money, because they think it’s easy, but then again, they don’t have the time nor the skill sets to do it themselves. The PR agency or the consultant, in the same way any company will know their own domain better, will not know your own business better than you do. 

T-shaped consultant don’t refer to people standing with their arms outstretched. Across the horizontal bar stands for their professional expertise, whether it is in law, accounting, architecture, or the like. Any consultancy has a horizontal domain and a vertical domain. The vertical domain is their sector expertise. If you’re looking for an agency or a consultant, ask about their professional qualifications expertise as well as their domain expertise. Consider agencies that seem like a good fit for the company and industry and ones that have relationships with third parties you might need to talk to, which could be the media, analysts, governments, or third party suppliers. You can outsource to an agency because bottom line, the agency will do it better than you can, but also because they save you time by outsourcinb this variable cost to a third party. 

The first phase in manufacturing was outsourcing, and the second phase was offshoring. Offshoring means conducting work with people you can’t necessarily meet with in person. In ‘The Outsourcing Handbook’Power, Bonifazi and D’Souza identified 10 traps of outsourcing, and those apply just as much to public relations as they do to manufacturing: lack of management commitment, minimal knowledge of outsourcing methodologies, a lack of outsourcing communications plan, a failure to recognise the business risks, a failure to ask and tap into the external knowledge of the third party and also not allocating resources internally to managing that outsource partner; rushing and making a procurement decision in speed and not appreciating the cultural differences, and language complications; minimizing also what it will take for the vendor to get up to speed, how much information they need, and not valuing and giving the the partner the time that they need in order to do their job. So, manufacturing, offshoring, and outsourcing PR suffer the same issues.

Platforms for outsourcing your work

Over 45-50% of all PR is outsourced, according to a study in 2000 by a group called the Impulse Research, so this means that nearly half of all work is being done by agencies. That translates into a huge potential for miscommunication and lack of empowerment of the agency by the client. But for smaller companies whose founders may want to do it themselves, it’s possible. There are websites like Upwork, Fiverr, PeoplePerHour, SimplyHired, to name a few. If you want to look further afield, there are dedicated websites for people for hire from the Philippines, from Vietnam, and so on. Once you’ve find the right person, then think about knowledge management or file sharing. Platforms like Zoho, Basecamp, Asana, Slack, SharePoint, and Dropbox are useful for that. If you hire an agency or a freelancer, they become an extension of the organisation, and therefore knowledge management becomes an essential part of the engagement with that third party, either a company or an individual.

After the idea is brought to life, the next part is sending out the content produced. Tools like MediaInfo, PressRush, Cision, Hootsuite, Buffer, Buzzsprout, WooPitch, or JournoLink can be used, and EASTWEST PR’s Technology Applications Directory, there are over 100 applications listed that entrepreneurs or business owners can use to promote content, often for free and almost always with a free trial. There are times you want to outsource tasks, and there are times you want to bring the information in-house, so there’s no right or wrong reason or methodology. It depends on the nature of the work, the type of situation you’re in, and the phase that your business is at. If you have more time than money, doing it yourself in this blended solution works well. But as the company gets larger, outsourcing more and more of the production and the distribution makes a lot of sense, not least of which because you need more reach, but what can never be outsourced is giving the inspiration and direction to the strategy. That is what differentiates your company from somebody else’s. 

When working with an agency, it’s always important to give a proper written brief. Otherwise, the lack of inspiratio, direction, and alignment could cause a decay in the relationship between the client and the agency, leading to the misconception that agencies are bad. You can’t rely on them to be as motivated and as loyal as an internal member of staff, because they don’t have the same degree of knowledge and because they’re not picking up received information from within the organisation. They need a direct channel of communication that is structured and consistent and one that enables them to do their job well. 

Going back to Edward L. Bernays, he said that his number one rule in public relations was that it’s a two-way street. On the one hand, the PR person interprets the customer’s needs and desires for the general public, but on the other hand, that person decodes what the public wants and what the public needs, and he communicates that back to the client and ideally to the founder. If you choose to do all of the PR in-house, you’re actually missing the opportunity to have counsel. If you outsource everything, try and maintain access to somebody who can give you some guidance and some insight into what it is your company is saying in the outside world and what the outside world is saying about you. 

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