The Gallup poll released last week showed that the ad/PR sector, already a low 38% in the public’s estimation in 2001, has slipped further to 32%.

Only nine sectors have a lower positive rating including the airline industry, education, legal field, banking and real estate (of course!), healthcare, oil & gas and the federal government.

The banks, which have escaped much retribution although touching off the four-year recession, are just getting their comeuppance with the filing of lawsuits against 17 financial institutions by the federal government last week.

Fifteen sectors have a higher Gallup rating including computers, the restaurant industry, internet, farming, grocery industry, retail and travel industries.

Echo of PRSA’s 1999 Poll

PR specialist ranked 43rd of 45 public figures in a 1999 survey.
The latest Gallup findings are an echo of the results of a $150K study completed in 1999 for the PRSA and Rockefeller Foundations.

Placing 43 on a list of 45 “believable sources of information” was “public relations specialist.”

The Society, which never held a press conference on this three-year study and reneged on a promise to do a follow-up study, disappointing professors from Duke, Columbia and other institutions, collapsed into itself instead of attacking the problem head-on.

Tactics of PRS buried the story on an inside page and did not print the table. When we discovered the study via an item in the Washington Times and started asking questions, the 1999 board headed by Sam Waltz said we were taking up too much time of staffers and “blackballed” the O’Dwyer Co., refusing to deal with us or answer any questions.

A member then charged the board with violation of five articles in the Code and demanded a hearing by a judicial panel.

Rather than do this, the Society, on advice of Ethics chair Bob Frause of Seattle, declared the Code unenforceable and kaput. A new Code with no enforcement provisions was created at a cost of $197K.

What Can Be Done Now?

The poor image of ad/PR is not something that is attracting the best students. Almost in as much trouble is publishing which was ninth from the top of the list with a 38% positive vote. Media have taken a big hit in the past decade.

Students who are majoring in PR, communications and journalism should heed the advice of Richard Sine, formerly with the Philadelphia Inquirer and who now works out of Atlanta.

Accepting an offer to study business journalism on a fellowship, he found fellow students to be “timid, desultory and aimless,” taking up topics such as media history, communication theory and journalism philosophy.

But he found the business school students to be “passionate, driven and excited about their futures.”

With so few J jobs around, students might as well study “blacksmithing, bloodletting or steamship design,” he wrote. Only the “financially illiterate” go to J-schools which are built on the backs of starry-eyed naifs,” he said.

We feel the same about PR and communications majors. A few courses may be O.K. but students would be far better off taking the hardest possible courses and learning how to think.

Students Need Quark, Web-Building Skills

We have encountered a number of communications majors this summer working at various jobs in the Hamptons and have talked to and traded e-mails with others after sending them O’Dwyer’s Directory of PR Firms (in return for an essay on their college experiences and job-hunting).

None of them has learned how to use software like QuarkExpress or Adobe InDesign which are needed for publication and web design. The full Quark costs around $1,500 while InDesign is less. None of the students has learned how to create and maintain a website.

They have spent many tens of thousands of dollars studying subjects like those mentioned by Sine when they could have been studying history, economics, math, literature, etc. Grads tell us that employers are not interested in what they studied, only in how many internships they had. Three are preferred.

Students are almost completely ignorant of the PR trade press and current pressures on PR pros. They know the PR job market is tight but have received no training in being entrepreneurs.

We tell them that in between job-hunting they should contact businesses in their hometowns and offer to be helpful on any and all tasks.

PR people have a credibility problem and trust needs to be built slowly, we say. There are millions of small businesses that could use PR/promotion. A main, if not the main reason businesses fail, is lack of promotion.

Deal with the owners of the businesses and find out their real problems, is our advice (taken from Ben Sonnenberg, probably the richest PR person in the 1950s/'60s). We don’t know of any other PR exec who owned a 12-story townhouse on Gramercy Park packed with valuable art objects.

His life should be a textbook of every PR student but we have never found one who heard of him.

VMS Demise a Shocker

The demise of VMS (Video Monitoring Services of America) is a shocker and something that all PR/communications students should be aware of. It illustrates the powerful forces at work in PR and how the crucial service of media-monitoring has been affected.

Much of what business wants from social media is monitoring—an early warning system of things that might be wrong with a company’s products or marketing.

Keeping track of the Tower of Babel that is SM has helped PR to grow during a period of economic stagnation.

Forty-seven of the 150 PR firms ranked by O’Dwyer’s for 2010 had double-figure gains including 12 of the 25 biggest. The main reason for the growth, owners told this website, was increased monitoring activity.

The promise of SM is “conversations” with interested parties which can result in lots of billable time. Monitoring, not communications, is the rage these days.

Press contact has been formalized, largely limited to trading e-mails with reporters. Among those closely monitored by management are the PR pros themselves.

Students Need to Follow News of PR

Students and their professors should ponder how a company with $47.5 million in revenues in 2010 can go belly up with liabilities of more than $8M.

Assets are $6.4M in receivables and $9.7M in office equipment and supplies. The largest creditor is owed $5.6M. Hundreds of unsecured creditors are listed in the bankruptcy filing. Employees were paid through last week but did not get severance pay or ongoing health benefits.

VMS, whose chairman is Robert Waggoner, (also chairman of BurrellesLuce, press release distribution and monitoring firm), was hit with competition from individuals who can do research via Google and other search engines as well as competition from major firms like Vocus, Cision and Critical Mention.

Waggoner is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Harvard Business School Visiting Committee, the Dean’s Council at the Harvard School of Public Health, and is the former chairman of the Harvard College Visiting Committee.

A trustee and chairman emeritus of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, he is also a founder and director of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and a director of E3, a New Jersey school choice alliance. He holds a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

Burrelle’s was founded as a press clipping business in 1888 and merged with Luce Press Clippings in 2003.