PR is killing print publishingImagine if this happened to you….

You have a nice shop – the rates and overheads are a bit expensive but you believe in what you do and you work hard to make it a great shop. Someone walks through the door.

“Wow, this is a lovely shop! I really love this!”

“Thanks!” you reply with a big smile. “Would you like to buy something? How can I help you?”

“Oh, no I don’t want to buy anything, but I have this really cool stuff, and what I want to do is to sell my stuff in your shop. But I don’t want to pay you anything for it. I just think it would be great because, you know, you have a really cool shop.”

“So you want to sell your stuff in my shop, but pay me nothing?! How does that work? How am I supposed to pay my bills? What if everyone did that?”

“Oh I’m sure other people will help. I just wanna, you know, sell my stuff but not pay you anything. And by the way, could you make sure all my stuff goes in the window? With some really big signs?”

This is effectively what PR companies do to independent publishers, every single day. It’s utterly overwhelming now, the volume of PR emails I receive in my inbox throughout the day – and most of them are PRs. Can I please take a look at the attached about our launch? Wow we have a really cool new bag – it’s just perfect for your magazine, would you like to feature it? My client is opening a new office – there’s great photo opportunities for you – would you like to send a photographer along and cover the story? And so it goes on… endless requests for coverage and not a single offer of financial support in return. Because hey – the client pays them, right? They’re just doing their job.

Everyone wants to secure coverage for their client in your magazines, but nobody wants to pay you anything for it.

There are some PRs that are better than this…

There are of course exceptions to the rule – Midnight Communications in Brighton for example completely understand how untenable this situation is, and work with us on campaigns with their clients. Some advertising revenue for us, a clearly defined campaign of coverage in return. But PR agencies like this are in the minority. They don’t seem to understand that no advertising revenue eventually means no magazine. And I’m a bit sick of it.

I understand why it happens – if you’re a client with five offices or whatever, you probably don’t want to be liaising with several regional publications for each one of those, so you think hey, I’ll pay a PR company to handle that for me. And so the client coughs up what is usually a sizeable amount of money to a PR to secure exposure for them in return. Fair play. But the only pockets getting lined here are the PR’s. Because this kind of practice is putting more and more print publications out of business.

The alternative?

OK – so we understand that one of our magazines might be only one of many the client needs to reach out to. But I can almost guarantee that for a much smaller fee than you’d pay a PR firm, we can work out a six or 12 month deal with a client that means input is minimal. We hatch out a campaign and then just get on with it – offering a blend of editorial, social media, advertising and newsletter input. We even do the design work for free.

Maybe a PR company is the only way to go. In which case, negotiate a rate with them that leaves a bit in the pot for the publisher. I can tell you that once you’ve had several emails from the same PR bod about the same client five times, we are heartily sick of seeing your name and the begging bowl it’s next to. Treat magazines and publishers with respect, and remember we have to eat too.

If a PR comes to us and explains that they’re looking for coverage for a client and there isn’t a huge budget but there is £X in the pot, we will work hard to ensure they get the best bang for their buck. If they come to us and just expect free coverage because hey, “it’s a great story for you,” it’s unusual for me to even read the email or finish the conversation.

Where will it end?

PR will eventually end up killing itself I think, or will need a radical change. If there isn’t any money coming into independent print publishing, it simply cannot endure. We have made a move with two of our titles to go online, where we can curate our editorial content much more carefully and we are much more fussy about what goes up. We have fewer overheads, reach a very clearly defined targeted audience, and work on dedicated campaigns with our clients to offer an online publishing strategy that offers them shareable content and trackable metrics. When you compare that to print, it’s hard to see why we’d bother printing actual magazines any more at all. Except that a lot of people really like a nice magazine to hold. I do. I love print. But PR is killing it.

So potential clients of the world – please consider this next time you think about putting your marketing spend in the hands of a PR. Sure, we need stories from PRs sometimes, but not the relentless crap that lands in my inbox all day, every day. We just don’t even read most of it, and as a client you’re certainly not getting coverage from us because of that. Maybe try talking to us direct? You might be surprised how much more you could get if you used your budget a bit more wisely.

About the Author: Sam Harrington-Lowe

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