From Kiev

It’s always refreshing to come across some prose by my old colleague and eastern European/Russian PR pioneer Mike Willard. This time, Mike waxes for The Ukrainian Observer, a organ of his company The Willard Group. (Still not sure I’m ready to subscribe.)

Mike laments the ailing reputation of PR (hmmm, there too?) and reminisces about the efforts in the mid-90’s by our global agency to inculcate every one of the firm’s employees into the methodology of “perception management.” We all agreed the term had baggage…lots of it, but it was viewed (and embraced) internally as a new way of doing business and, a big agency differentiator.

If this were today, the blogosphere would have a field day, but this was a different era when the term “blog” was merely a typo.

The firm’s leadership gathered the senior managers in the theatre at The Macklow Conference Center just off Times Square to launch this ambitious and all-encompassing agency brand recalibration. I remember emerging from the multi-media presentation actually excited by what I had just heard — but still a little troubled by the perception “perception management” would leave with laypersons…and the media.

It’s no secret that every agency thirsts for ways to differentiate itself from the pack. Primary research, new graphic identities, fancy-sounding branded offerings, specialty departments focusing on the service-du-jour, e.g., litigation support, organizational change, social media, etc.

Burson-Marsteller built quite a formidable brand reputation studying CEO reputation and its impact on corporate reputation. Edelman has its Trust Barometer, which more recently has been overshadowed (or melded with) its me2revolution. Qorvis in DC actually made astro-turfing acceptable in a Republican-dominated Beltway. BuzzMarketing, also seen by some as astroturfers, has the perceptual lock on viral or word-of-mouth marketing.

How much are these offerings driven by marketing and biz dev considerations versus actual client need or demand? Can vigorous promotion thereof create client demand (where little otherwise existed)? I guess it’s all inconsequential as along as incremental client billings result.