Teach Your Children Well

I was out of the office for personal and business reasons for a couple days last week and I feel a little like Alice stepping through the Looking Glass.  First of all, as Don Jennings notes in an earlier post, many of us are disheartened about our good friends in the media being caught in layoffs.  Barbara Darrow, for example, is one of the best journalists in the business.  I’ve personally been referencing her in my executive media trainings for years as an example of a journalist who builds good, mutually respectful relationships with her best sources.  It is one of the reasons she often has the scoop.  It also helped her gain access to many top executives who enjoyed talking with her and respected her ability.  The technology industry is worse off today without Barb serving as a watchdog.  I’m hoping some smart publication will snatch her up quickly so the equilibrium of the planet can go back to normal again.

Then I started reading the blog postings about Google deciding to double its PR team (perfectly appropriate for a goliath growing as quickly as they are), but declaring they are not bringing anyone in with either PR or journalism experience.  They say they are going after top graduates from the best schools for the positions.  One assumes they have a great training program to quickly get these people up to speed on how to handle PR for the most watched company in the tech industry. 

But who is going to bring those people along and mentor them?  PR is not a product that can be manufactured by rows and rows of people pushing the machinery along.  It is a strategic science that must be orchestrated carefully and that requires knowledge, relationships and — I can’t get away from this word — experience.  It made me smile to think of all of those bright and eager young people representing Google as they deal with the media and the bloggers and the analysts, as well as the Google partners.  Despite the evolution PR is going through, companies continue to choose agencies based upon a model that involves teams of very experienced people who strategically plan and direct the programs for our clients supported by more junior level people. 

We have incredible young people — top grads from the best schools — who have come along very quickly and are getting great results for their clients.  But they are part of teams led by experienced PR sages.  They are not on their own.  I can only imagine the reaction I would get if we brought a team of these bright young people on a new business pitch and told the company — "they are grads from the top schools and there is a not a lick of PR or journalism experience in the bunch."  I am sure I would be laughed out of the room — or forcibly ejected along with my eager young team.

As a former tech journalist and long-time PR veteran, I certainly will be watching these developments with great interest.  But I’ll also be decrying the scorn for experience — both within the publications and now from this industry leader.  I certainly understand that the pubs are cutting the more experienced people because they are making tough business decisions and the top salaries go first.  But what is Google’s excuse?  (Kudos to Tom Foremski for questioning this as well.)

We have survived for nearly 21 years because of the experience we bring to the table and the great team of people whose knowledge and connections our mixed teams leverage every day.  I think back to our 20th anniversary party at Fenway last year when Barb Darrow’s colleague Steve Burke (who survived, thank heaven!) raised a glass to me and toasted, "To the survivors, baby!"  Let’s hope this is just an aberration and not a trend.

Meanwhile, though, I’m not going to plan any more days out of the office for a few weeks . . .