Please don’t use the V-word

quartersIt seems like every time our industry takes one giant stride forward in defining ourselves as strategic partners, someone or some entity, will remind the business world that many still see us as little more than vendors.

It really hurts, though, when the industry’s ‘top’ journal, PR Week, uses the word to describe us.

The incident in question occurred in a column entitled, ‘Gloves Off.’

PR Week asked two industry veterans to answer the following question, ‘Is it necessary for major brands to have a retained PR agency on board?’

Sherry Pudloski, VP, eternal communications at Pfizer, argued for the affirmative while Paula Keve, CCO of Dow Jones & Company, said, “Hell no!”

Both executives raised familiar issues:

– Pudloski emphasized the objectivity and wide breadth of experience that only an external PR firm can provide.

– Keve rightly pointed out that clients are paying for a whole lot more than an AOR’s strategy and tactics. She suggested that many agency fixed costs are included in their monthly fees (which is certainly true of holding companies). And, she was especially appalled to be billed an hour-and-a-half just for an agency staffer to compile her invoice.

This is all very, very old turf. But, what struck a nerve was ‘PR Week’s View’ of the debate:

“The PR agency world is more competitive than ever – to the benefit of clients. Firms often bring valuable expertise and perspective, but it is up to the client to ensure he or she is getting the most out of their company’s vendors.”

VENDORS? Why thank you, PR Week. By using the dreaded V-word, you’ve once again perpetuated the myth that PR is little different than office supplies, telephone lines or office equipment. By using the dreaded V-word, you’ve once again told purchasing agents that PR firms are suppliers, and should be treated as such from a cost standpoint.

It’s challenging enough for an agency to gain a seat at the coveted C-suite table. We most surely do NOT need our leading trade journal referring to us as vendors. I, for one, would like to see the publication print a correction.

8 thoughts on “Please don’t use the V-word

  1. Thanks for your note, Jim. I’d like to say I’m shocked that a trade reporter actually asked you to explain what an AOR was, but I’m not.

  2. I’m shocked, really shocked that an industry pub like PR Week would make an insensitive mistake like this. And don’t forget, they depend not only on skilled reporters with reliable sources who cover each beat but also punctilious fact checkers and senior editors with deep industry knowledge and insight from years on the desk. I go back to the first incarnation of PR Week under Paul Holmes. At least he was a good writer and had high standards and understood the profession and business–and I liked him because I was his source for many of the things that were news in the print mag it was then. Now we have the reborn PR News for whom Holmes originally was a columnist and almost all of whose original staff and executives are out the door long ago most of them heading to Ad Age where the pay was better because we’re more advertisers. Or to PR firms where the pay is better and they get more respect. I stopped being any kind of source after I grew weary of getting calls that began “my editor or so&so said I should call you and you could explain to me what an AOR is.” True story. But mostly I quit having any respect due to the intern/new grad level of writing and coverage of the industry. You see, they think being a “vendor’ is a good thing because that’s what they aspire to be for the PR industry and profession. Nice job calling them out Steve.

  3. Appreciate the feedback, gents. Peter, it turns out the Pfizer woman is a vampire and will, in fact, live forever. Matt: I see us as roustabouts.

    • Back when she was on the agency side, I was Sherry Pudloski’s VEND….oh, never mind. Thank you for the opportunity to check in with Sherry and let her know that Steve Cody thinks she’s immortal. I would suggest that maybe you should stay away from those marathon viewings of the “Twilight” movies.

  4. We will not be a V. We only work on an ongoing, strategic (not just a project) relationship with clients who treat us as partners, as we always strive to become an extension of their team. “It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.” This is attributed to John Wooden, Blanton Collier and others.

  5. You wrote a very good and provocative column. PR Week should know better. Since I’m not selling services as an agency, I have to deal with the dreaded “V” label all the time.

    For more credibility, please correct “eternal” to read “external” in Ms. Pudloski’s title in the 5th paragraph. While I certainly hope she enjoys a long career at Pfizer, that title seems overly optimistic.