If you don't have enough spare time to read this article, the answer is a simple YES! :-) If you do have a bit of time, you may enjoy this revealing insight into Iran's PR industry.
As someone who used to be involved on both sides of the PR industry in Iran, working in the media and also as a marketer, I hope that the growth of digital media and social networks will finally heal Iran's impaired PR industry.
PR professionals in the west may be a bit surprised to find out how the typical bread and butter public relations campaign works in Iran. Before I go on, this is by no means applicable to every single PR activity or every single PR practitioner but it does apply to most of the industry.
In simple terms, the PR firm rewards the publication or journalist financially and the PR article gets published. Yes, that simple, pay and publish.
Now, some of you, playing devil's advocate, may actually admire the efficiency of a commercial PR system which is almost 100% reliable both in terms of what is published and when it's published.
But apart from the ethical issues, there are significant problems of running a PR operation in this way.
There is no creativity
If you can pay to get your article published, then there is no incentive for the PR firm to be creative or engaging. In essence, the PR firm becomes a mere middle man with the questionable added value of having links to journalists. The firm will take the money from the client, and pay a smaller amount to the publisher/journalist.
If there is no creativity, then there is no engagement
PR articles in Iranian media, are in effect advertorials. A dry article singing the praises of a new product and describing its technical features in laboriously boring detail. The vast majority of the potential audience is not engaged and the whole PR exercise is rendered pointless.
The end is replaced by the means
Rather than the PR campaign targeting the objectives of increased awareness and sales, the objective is the number of articles being published, i.e. the means, becomes the end. Why spend money on publishing articles when they don't have the desired effect on the potential audience?
The whole PR exercise is rendered useless
The PR firm has met its objectives of publishing the desired number of articles, but to what effect? The client is upset at the end of the contract as their PR budget has not delivered.
It's not just the PR industry, the client is also at fault
At a PR pitch for a major international brand in Iran, I was constantly grilled by the Iranian executives who made it crystal clear that their primary concern was the 'connections' I 'personally' had with several national Iranian newspapers. This is in 2014! I may have understood this in 1999 but not in 2014! If this is how Iranian clients are going to filter PR firms, then it's no wonder they run into trouble.
If your 'good friend', or your 'distant cousin' works in a newspaper, it may lead to more articles being published, but frankly so what? The old adage of "Quality over Quantity" is particular true in public relations. Just one great PR feat can be more rewarding than thousands of advertorials in a national newspaper. Surely we should be aiming to create content which publications want to publish. This will greatly increase the likelihood of engagement with the audience.
I don't want to underestimate the importance of building up good relationships with publications. That's crucial. But a PR firm should be much more than a networking organisation.
I feel a change comin' on
The plethora of new digital publications, blogs, forums, and the mushrooming of social media have transformed the media landscape. The example I gave of a major brand being concerned foremost with my personal connections, shows that many companies have not yet digested the ramifications of the digital media revolution. I wanted to ask the twenty or so executives in the conference room to raise their hands if they had read newspaper 'x' that morning and then raise their hands if they had checked their 'Facebook' page. But some clients refuse to be 'pushed' into this new reality and will simply have to catchup later.
Traditional media no longer vital
One of the consequences of the digital revolution for PR in Iran, is that clients will not have to go through the traditional media to get a message to their consumers. Social media allows them to communicate directly with their audience.
Different publications, different relationships
The multitude of websites, blogs and digital news outlets changes the traditional PR firm / Journalist relationship in Iran. Personal connections may not count for much anymore. It's more about working hard to create an engaging message and creating enough of a buzz to make sure that it's picked up by numerous publishers. Unless the message being conveyed is appealing in some way it's won't be picked up and will receive very few user impressions, no matter who you are friends with or who your cousin is!
Content becomes king. Again this is not to relegate the importance of creating long term relationships with editors and bloggers etc. but with almost infinite choices for the Internet audience, the PR firm will have to be very creative to ensure their content is noticed.
Birth of creative PR firms
The digital age should hopefully push PR agencies in Iran to become more creative and stop acting as middle men. We should hopefully see better copy, less advertorials, and more engagement from the audience. This should in turn persuade clients in Iran to see the power and effectiveness of PR.