In defence of agency corp comms

Now, this piece could be seen as a lame attempt at sucking up. I can assure you it’s anything but.

The agency corp comms guys I have dealt with over the years, many of whom I have been shamefully rude to on occasion, know me better than to suspect that I am trying to get in their good books.

You see, I have often wondered, usually on deadline while impatiently waiting for a response, just what it is that corp comms types actually do all day.

It is only recently that I have realised that the job is not quite the foie gras picnic it is made out to be.

They perhaps deserve a little, just a little, more respect.

It’s easy for grumpy hacks to forget that corp comms people may be, just may be, doing other stuff that the role demands when they’re not scrambling to get an answer to a journalist’s question.

Like managing the vast amount of information that flows from West to East, and vice versa. Writing presentations for the bosses. Writing new business proposals and pitch documents. Running training sessions. The list is not as short as a journalist on deadline would like to think.

But corp comms guys get a bad rap for being glorified PAs; pampered party organisers who do not do much more than write the occasional press release, after swanning in some time after the creatives at 11 in the morning to have a natter about their weekend plans over a decaf latte.

They are said to be the sort of people who’ve turned their backs on journalism because it was too much like hard word, too stressful, too badly paid, under the pretense that they now want to “control the story”.

And even if they are good at what they do – whatever that is – what do they really know about the creative process anyway? Have they ever made an ad? Written a brief? A media plan? Spoken to a client? No. Most of them have not.

And yet these are the people who can mean the difference between agency of the year and oblivion.

Ad agencies are usually terrible at managing their own brands. Which is ironic, since they are paid to do precisely this for their clients. But if it wasn’t for corp coms people – even bad ones – they’d probably be a lot worse.

Yes, there are bad corp comms habits that drive me crazy, and of course I’m sure the reverse is true of me and other hacks.

Here a few that really get on my nerves.

Sending out a press release then disappearing off the face of the earth (off to a two-hour lunch?), as if the release was so perfect it couldn’t possibly prompt a follow-up question from a journalist.

Boss blocking. A good corp comms person, in my view, builds a bridge between a journalist and their CEO, and is then happy to get out of the way once that relationship is up and running. Do I have to go through corp comms every time I want to speak to the CEO? If I do, it feels like someone is trying to justify their existence.

Lying. Yes, simply lying about a story you know for a fact is true, only for the story to appear elsewhere minutes later.

Openly favouring another publication. A few years ago in Singapore, I had a meeting with a corp comms person at a big media agency cut short because a journalist from The Economist had showed up early.

I could go on. And I would love to publish a top ten of the best – and worst – people I’ve come across in corp comms roles in Asia. But that would be cruel – even for me. And no real use to anyone.

My point is this. The biggest problems arise when corp comms is not given due respect or power by the powers that be. They are unable to make decisions quickly, if at all, without the CEO’s say so, and things rapidly descend into an ugly mess when the proverbial hits the fan.

I suppose it says something about the value of the role in Asia that I asked a few corp comms people to write this piece for me, but they declined saying they’d probably get fired for doing so.

Good corp comms people are quick, well organised, know what makes a good story for the different publications they have relationships with, and have lost none of the news sense that made them good journalists.

They cannot be these things if their bosses do not fully appreciate their value.

Robin Hicks


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