The right number of PR people

Tomorrow's Business

What’s the optimum number of flaks for a big company to employ? The mean-spirited hack, most of us, might say “zero”. I don’t agree, but I can sympathise with the view.

Hacks frequently say, after a conversation with a sometimes quite senior internal PR person, what is the point of that job? That person knows less about the company they work for than I do.

In an ideal world, the perfect number of flaks per company that a hack actually deals with should be one. One really informed flak who gets exactly what we need, can rein us in when we’re in danger of going overboard and who may even like us personally, though not too much.

Very big companies increasingly seem to think the ideal number of flaks is always “more”.

There are scores and scores of flaks at big corporations, the effect of which is that you can never quite get to the person who might actually know the answer. It’s always someone else’s area, and someone else will get back to you later with a totally unhelpful answer. They aren’t trying to obfuscate, they just don’t know.

This is partly a reflection of the fact that big companies are increasingly more complicated. Explaining what they do is just harder. It needs more people.

Unfortunately, that coincides with a period when journalists are becoming less experienced and expected to produce more material.

As a root to mutual understanding, that model – more flaks, fewer hacks – is going to lead to trouble.

So a rule of thumb: the really big companies that are best at PR have a small team of senior people that talk to hacks all the time. The ones that are worst at PR have hundreds of them and they are all seemingly afraid of the telephone.

Hacks know which companies I am talking about here. Do flaks?

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