Prescriptive Out-Sourcing

Today’s Guardian of London questions the BBC’s use of an outside entertainment PR firm to publicize one of its most popular programming franchises, “Doctor Who.”

The reporter reluctantly accepts the use of the publicity shop given the Beeb’s budget cuts in recent years, much of which has decimated the venerable broadcaster’s in-house PR operations. He wrote:

“In the last year 115 jobs in marketing and publicity have gone – its [sic] one of the hardest hits [sic] departments in the BBC. But the BBC still has the same number of programmes to promote. No wonder some journalists aren’t getting their calls returned as quickly as they’d like.”

Is returning journalists’ phone calls the reason for deploying an outside agency? I would say this may be true, especially if you work in a busy in-house press office. However, with 25 years of agency experience, I’m a little more bullish on the resources an outside firm can bring to a bare-boned and beleaguered PR department.

Most firms pride themselves on helping clients get ahead of the curve — mostly to develop and enterprise press-generating opportunities (as opposed to simply helping fulfill the media’s informational requests). Secondly, with more human resources and a broader portfolio of clients, the agency may be able to better uncover and capitalize on trends, tools and editorial opportunities — something for which busy press offices have little excess bandwidth.

Still, why do some journalists hint at scandal when a public entity retains an outside PR firm? I don’t see it happening with law and accounting firms.