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The press office: is it a necessary evil?

Di Antonio Caneva, 11 Luglio 2013

The manager of an important hotel chain recently told me that “press offices are… a necessary evil”.
If I were to place myself in the shoes of a tourism operator, however, quite apart from my personal preferences, I would have to disagree with this statement. Press offices, both internal to companies and independent, constitute an important resource for businesses. Particularly at a time of economic crisis, companies need to improve their visibility not to be marginalised.
Obviously, there are different ways of managing corporate visibility / communication, but it cannot be achieved without the professional contribution, in terms of both skills and relations, of those who operate in this field in an organised way.
Quite simply, how much would it cost to publish as advertisements (with a much smaller impact) the same reviews / articles that can be obtained from a specifically structured press event organised by a communication firm with strong contacts in the world of the media?
All is well, except that sometimes, due to lack of knowledge of the system, unwillingness to provide the necessary means, or maybe just out of presumption, we end up organising projects with limited returns.
One of the things that most annoy communication professionals, for example, is when further information is requested after the issuance of a press release, and no replies are provided. This is often due to the fact that a company has outsourced only the issuance of press information and not the follow-up work, so that any request for more details that may result in the publication of an article ends up not being followed through. In a concrete case, of which I don’t know the reasons, a Nordic airline company regularly issues information about its own activity by means of an external firm and, having found the news interesting, we asked for further information in order to publish it. We did not receive a reply, with the consequence that we will never again publish any news on this company or on any of the agency’s clients.
Another example: a large hotel complex in Arbatax organised a press tour. Feeling curious about this place, I contacted the press office and said I would participate, and I would pay the flight for my wife as well, therefore asking if they agreed that she could join me. They replied that I would also have to pay for the hotel (in the room I was going to occupy anyway). As a matter of principle (certainly not because of the small amount of money) I did not participate in the tour, and we are certainly not going to publish anything about this complex. The question is: having already planned a substantial investment (the journalists’ travel and transfers, the services, the press office) was it worth the hotel’s while to go after the few pennies of a night stay?
Sometimes we rely on press offices that have a narrow mind. I once asked a favour from the manager of one of these (who, incidentally, at the beginning of his career had free use of an address in Milan at my office), and obtained a denial on grounds that he was too busy. The same favour was done to me by a colleague of his, with whom I had an occasional acquaintance. Whose office’s news do you think our paper is going to publish in future?
Of course, we are no Corriere della Sera, and our choices have little impact on the overall results of business, but these are signs of a less than optimal approach to work, and, in a period of limited resources, they should induce to consider one’s decisions with great care, whether with regard to a press office or to business strategies.

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