Haris Ahmed – Chicago | The Trouble with In-House PR: Part 1

Haris Ahmed Chicago: Why In-House PR Tends to Stifle Creativity

Haris Ahmed, from Chicago, is the founder and CEO of Pragmatium Consulting Group, Inc., a management consulting company that engages in public relations, market research, and process improvement. Today, he talks about how in-house PR departments stifle the creative process among practitioners and how engaging PR firms can shake up the way companies think about promoting themselves.

Whenever Pragmatium starts one of its projects, I kick things off with a meeting among our practitioners, the client’s head of marketing, and the head of public relations. Most of the time, we ask questions about the level of involvement of the company’s PR staff in coming up with campaigns, and invariably, the clients answer, “Oh, our in-house PR department is very much involved in our promotional efforts.”

However, this isn’t always the case. We look through their press releases, advertising copy, and speeches given by their C-level executives, and often find that the tone and content vary very little. One would think that this issue is confined only to companies that have a long history, such as the IBMs and General Electrics of the world. However, in more than 30 years of PR consulting, I’ve found out that this is not just confined to large, monolithic organizations. In fact, the one common denominator is that small and large companies alike have in-house PR departments.

Proponents of the in-house PR model claim that press releases and promotional material should reflect the company’s culture. I do not disagree with that at all; in fact, a press release should state the company’s stand on issues very strongly and leave little room for interpretation. However, it is hard to maintain a sense of objectivity if the PR staff is not free to look at issues from the perspective of external shareholders, such as customers, investors, and the media. And in this post-truth world, creativity and objectivity are proving to be a company’s best currencies.

One client I had told me the other day, “Haris Ahmed, Chicago is different from Wall Street and the Beltway. If you want to reach out to the Midwest, you should speak their language and know what the market wants.”

I replied, “Yes, we should speak like Chicagoans if we want to reach the Chicago market. But your organization is expanding beyond the Loop, and you’re opening offices in Dallas and Tampa next quarter. How do you ensure that your communication is consistent yet creative enough to attract the new markets?”

He mumbled something about setting up PR units in the new offices, then excused himself as he had to rush off to another meeting. As he left, I thought of the hidden costs involved in in-house PR. First, my client had to hire PR practitioners in Chicago and deploy them to Tampa and Dallas. These PR practitioners risked having a lack of familiarity with the market there, as well as those who could break the news quickly. Second, they had to get themselves familiar with the company’s products and services too quickly. Third, variations in press releases and events had to go through multiple approvals, rendering the copy stale. Needless to say, these are all potential problems of in-house PR that PR firms wouldn’t pose.

Stay tuned to this blog by Haris Ahmed from Chicago consulting company Pragmatium Consulting Group for Part 2.

 

 

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