Sep 09

A Wigotsky in every agency

I must commend PR Week's 2010 career guide. It's chock full of information that's as useful to an  undergrad as it is to an agency principal.

Careerguidecover_117145_117858_117859 Stories include a roundtable discussion on the importance of a master's degree in PR (color me skeptical) and a fascinating profile of Harold Burson and his legacy to the agency that bears his name.

Burson produced a plethora of industry leaders over the years, including Ketchum's Rob Flaherty, CA's Bill Hughes and PulsePoint Group's Bob Feldman. The latter said his training at Burson began the day he joined the firm from Utica College in 1978. Feldman recalls a training program that mandated ALL writing done for clients was to be first reviewed by a former newspaper editor on staff. Feldman says the procedure made a great statement about the firm's commitment to quality.

I agree. I had the exact same experience as a young junior account executive at Hill & Knowlton. We, too, had a former editor check each and every piece of copy before it went to a client. My editor's name was Victor Wigotsky and he made a big impression on me.

Victor was a very demanding editor. Before he'd even give you his edits, he'd ask you what the story angle was and why it mattered. He'd then ask you what primary or secondary research supported the angle. Only when you'd provided the correct answers would Vic deign to review your copy. And, boy oh boy, was he ever meticulous in his edits. I cannot tell you how many times he'd send me scurrying back to my office because I'd buried a lead, hadn't nailed the 5Ws in the lead graph or neglected to correctly attribute a quote.

Victor was never mean, but he was strict. And we learned as a result. I'll never forget how happy I was when one of my initial press releases finally earned a 'VWW.' Those were Victor's initials and secretaries (yes, we all had secretaries back then) were under orders not to mail (yes, snail mail only) releases or bylined articles unless they saw the VWW stamp of approval.

I wish today's PR agency model had the time and financial wherewithal to mandate at least one Wigotsky in every firm. Unfortunately, between the 24×7 demand for constant content and the worst economic downturn in memory, there are few, if any, firms who insist ALL copy be reviewed by a Wigotsky-type first. As a result, I continually hear or read about poor writing when I attend events or scan our trades.

It's too bad that Wigotsky (and his Burson counterpart) are gone with the wind. I think everyone's writing would benefit from a VWW every now and then. Mine included.

Jul 07

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Two recent blogs on the subject of the ad industry awards event at Cannes both missed the
2010 Cannes Logo mark for different reasons.

The first, authored by Paul Taaffe, chairman and CEO of Hill and Knowlton (my alma mater) is a cautionary tale. In it, he laments the PR industry's poor showing in the recent competition. Taaffe worries that, if PR doesn't do a better job of putting our collective best foot forward, we'll lose future opportunities to the more creative and dramatic advertising types.
That's a flawed POV for a number of reasons. First, Paul forgets that ALL ad agency creative directors are frustrated Steven Spielberg wannabes. They create campaigns to win awards, not to sell products (which is one of the reasons why advertising finds itself in such a sorry state, BTW). Second, advertising has been operating in a 'video' medium for years so, naturally, their submissions would run rings around the typical three-ring binder we enter in a Silver Anvil competition. Third, who cares who wins the most awards? Clients want firms who can solve business problems, not win awards.

Paul Holmes weighed in on the Cannes competition as well but, predictably, had a different suggestion. Rather than sweat how many awards we don't win, Holmes suggests the PR industry needs yet another awards program (one that, presumably, would match the glitz and rock star quality of Cannes).

What we don't need right now is yet another awards program, especially when a double dip might be in the offing. Nor does PR need to prove itself the equal of advertising. We've already won that battle.

Instead, organizers of awards programs should focus on making them more equitable. Right now, every competition charges a fixed entry fee. That's wrong. It immediately skews the competition. It enables large agencies with big marketing budgets to submit scores and scores of entries. I recently judged a single category that contained 70 entries. No fewer than 20 were from Weber Shandwick. When I complained, I was asked to excuse myself from the judging.

Instead of fretting about besting our advertising brethren or convening yet another high-profile, high cost awards shindig we should, instead, be leveling the playing field. I'd like to see the two Pauls and their peers at the largest agencies and PR media properties put their heads together and figure out a tiered pricing solution for awards programs. Sure, Ketchum may not win another 117 Silver Anvils (which it proudly proclaims is more than any other PR firm in an ad), but wouldn't it be great to see lots more entries from small, emerging contenders?

It's high time our industry's power brokers paid attention to a real inequity. As Paul Holmes asks at the end of his blog, "If not us, who? If not now, when?”