The difference between a “new offering” or just another sandwich on a PR firm’s menu

When you hire a public relations firm these days, what are you buying … aside from their hours? With large agencies, such as Edelman and Hill & Knowlton, demanding hourly fees that may total $30,000 to $40,000 a month, minimum, are you getting a full course of services, a la carte or merely recycled scraps? Veteran New York City communications executive Steve Hoechster compares the PR business with a deli menu and provides this perspective.

The Carnegie Deli, one of New York’s fabled artery clogging eateries recently added the “Jet Bow” to its menu, a 4 pound edible edifice named in honor of Gotham’s newest celebrity, the genuflecting back-up quarterback of the New York Jets, Tim Tebow.

The “Jet Bow” sandwich at New York’s Carnegie Deli.

Whether it’s a sandwich emporium with a worldwide reputation or a neighborhood coffee shop, most of us expect to see a new item on the menu from time to time. In the case of the Carnegie Deli, it’s the continuation of a decades-long exercise in acknowledging accomplishment or, in the case of Tebow, (and to paraphrase a meritorious New Yorker, Woody Allen) merely showing up.

By the time the check is placed on the table by the waiter, we realize…it’s just another sandwich.

Granted, public relations firms aren’t populated with the sort of characters that push the pastrami at the Carnegie but they have seemingly taken a page from the deli’s playbook to gain attention from prospective diners…I mean…clients.

Take, for example, an item that appeared in the 4/17/2012 issue of PR Week. The headline read:

Edelman launches executive positioning offering.”

My inner Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler rumbled: Really!

In the spirit of full disclosure I once was in the employ of that organization and consider Richard Edelman, its globe-trotting CEO, one the most driven, dynamic and inventive minds in the industry. I also believe its annual Trust Barometer to be useful research, not self-promotional sludge.

Steve Hoechster, New York PR executive.

That said, how is a “service to help clients position their top executives in a relevant and credible way” a truly new offering. Isn’t this a fundamental part of just about any executive positioning or visibility program? The Edelman wrinkle appears to be the use of subject matter experts and former members of the media brought together as a sort of communications SWAT team to produce the CEO equivalent of “The King’s Speech.”

In the digital realm, the folks at Hill+Knowlton Strategies just announced availability of “a new service called Influence Point” that “can serve online ads directly to individuals identified as influencers” using “a proprietary methodology” to spot the desired influencers who are then served various digital ads to computer and mobile platforms.

The firm’s claim is such targeting cuts “wasteful spending on large online ad buys.”

To restate Seth and Amy: Really! Since when is any media planning and/or buying effort not oriented toward the highest possible efficiency in terms of reaching a defined audience?

Honestly, is either of these so-called new service offerings clear indications of the firms’ awareness of marketplace needs or something they’ve always had but now make on rye instead of whole wheat?

Whether it’s at a deli or in a conference room, the next time you sit down with a PR firm…before asking what’s new…ask what’s good today. (Or, are they just recycling what they should be already offering?)

[Steve Hoechster’s email is:]