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Winning the Loerie for PR may be losing the PR for PR

April is a trying month of two-day weeks and skiving off work. Or bashing your heads trying to get a campaign out the door. So excuse me for not noticing the details until now of The Loerie Awards' new gong for great PR.
Have you seen the new categories? At first sight, I was not sure if the Loeries organisers just made them up quickly before popping down to the pub, or if they were surreptitiously taking the piss out of the industry they secretly scorn? Hard to tell.

The PR Communication categories as per the Loeries website.
click to enlarge
The award for the best PR Communication (is one half of that not redundant?) will see the hand-engraved acrylic statuettes dispensed for "the strategic and innovative use of PR to drive coverage of a brand", which is fair enough. Picky PR people might already start objecting, since "coverage of a brand" is a tactic; it is neither an objective nor a strategy.

And then we look at the categories. You can win for getting a piece of coverage in print. Or you can win for getting something on the radio. Or TV. Or the Internet. Or, a combination.

What do the PR people think?


The Loeries committee will be going, "Yep. That pretty much covers it, right? Off to the wine bar." But what about the PR people? What do they think?

As it turns out, the Loeries people and the PRISA people put their heads together and thought long and hard about the new award - these categories do not come through ignorance of 'what PR is'. It was a conscious choice to focus on tactic.

The Loeries do not, and have never, recognised strategic communications in advertising. It is an award that applauds creative brilliance and excellence of execution of a single, tactical piece of work. The Loeries is fundamentally an awards exercise for the creative people, not the long-term strategy or roll-out behind the scenes.

And this is why some in our industry are looking at this 'PR Communications' award extremely askance.

Educate the market


For the last decade, the PR industry has been breaking its back to educate the market about what it does for clients: why, and how. Central to this attempt at education is that securing a piece of coverage is nice enough, but PR is so much more than that: most of it lies in subtle influence and the redirection of conversations. Not in a single kick-ass half page story with pics on page 23 of The Star.

Now, in a stroke, we put PR back into the box marked "Get our press release on the front page or you're fired".

The rewarding of a single, high-visibility piece of coverage is also only really suited to consumer PR - business-to-business (B2B) PR is out in the cold. Not for the first time, incidentally, even within PRISA, B2B PR is the unloved uncle, coming right at the tail end in the PRISA awards categories (after even the NGO and PR on a shoestring categories...) and with close to zero B2B experts amongst the judges.

So with all the above historical and class baggage in mind, this is what I would say to the awards organisers:

Dear Loeries

Giving an award for PR that got a nice piece of coverage in a newspaper is like awarding an Olympic Gold for Best Baton Pass in the Men's 200m Relay. Or a Victoria Cross for jumping out the trench and screaming "Gaaaaaaaaaah!" really well. The PR industry has struggled to define concretely how it delivers value for decades - and most of this struggle has been in getting paid for a direct effect on the business, rather than getting lots of press releases out the door and into print.

A single (albeit satisfying) tactical win does not a PR campaign make. To reward a single piece of coverage outside of a campaign's success metrics harms the PR industry. It confuses our clients even more about what they should expect and need. It trivialises the difficult, subtle and devastatingly effective work PR does to shift perceptions, grow understanding, educate audiences and great brand preference - often WITHOUT A SINGLE NEWSPAPER CLIPPING.

The advertising industry, and the Loeries in particular, reward a single, brilliant, creative piece of tactical execution that you can project on the screen and hear people's gasps. This is not what you find in PR. It is not bite-size chunks, nor blinding flashes.

Like it or not, the Loeries carry a huge amount of weight and light up the marketing sky when it comes to town. The PRISM Awards are barely visible in its shadow. According to PRISA, the PRISM Awards reward strategic value and great campaign execution. The Loeries will reward a drop-dead gorgeous tactic.

And people will only see the Loeries.


The Loerie Awards will be holding a complimentary workshop in Johannesburg on Tuesday, 10 May 2011, to provide insight into judging criteria, allow questions about entering work, receive tips on what the judges look for during the scoring process and find out who the 2011 international chairman is. The workshop will be hosted by Loeries CEO, Andrew Human and PRISA. Time: 4pm-5pm. Venue: Venue: Vega the Brand Communication School, Auditorium, at 444 Jan Smuts Avenue, Bordeaux, Johannesburg. RSVP to or tel +27 (0)11 326 0304.


For more:


See also:


Workshop notification added at 5.23pm on 9 May 2011.

About Roger Hislop

Roger Hislop works for SA's leading Internet Service Provider in the new business and innovation group. He's also a writer. He can bang out a gadget review in a tick, a deep and thoughtful analysis piece in two ticks, and a complete innovation strategy in three. His main interest is in telecoms and Internet tech, with a sideline in DIYing his own audio electronics. Contact Roger on and follow @d0dja on Twitter.
Comment
Roger Hislop
The point is right there-
Um. Yep. That's right. "in which the communication was done (the originality and the execution) not what it achieved"

And if the (now) biggest award for PR does not recognise it for what it achieves, but instead picks out a single tactic, is that good for PR?

I've heard these same arguments applied by advertising agency people over the years about whether the Loeries is good or bad for the industry - does it foster "win an award" mentality, rather than "do great work for the client" mentality.

The PR industry is possibly more prone even than advertising to a tactical focus being a the expense of a good comms strat.
Posted on 6 May 2011 14:08
Commentator
Thanks for bringing this up Roger-
My team called the Loerie office the other day to get a better understanding of how and what exactly are we supposed to enter. The categories do not make sense at all and it actually feels like an insult to the PR industry!
Posted on 6 May 2011 14:50
Benny
Why don't you PR 'gurus' rather send suggestions.-
Or is it easier to sit back and point fingers?
Posted on 6 May 2011 16:21
AL
The sham-
Ed, I'd like to reflect on your "Never won an award, Hey Roger?" snub.
The irony is that SA is performing poorly on the advertising world stage and its getting worse because of the hunger for awards.

In this economy and with the speculation and confusion around "new media" creatives are still primarily driven by the lure of gold and it is becoming very costly. The marketers are tired of it. The account managers are tired of it. And, as big as the Loeries is in agency minds, it is a tiny blip on the public radar.

there needs to be a shift to thinking about the goals of the brand first and foremost. With great thinking fuelled by great challenges, wonderful, engaging, creative communication can be developed. 1 print ad, a 30 second TV spot or a stunt in a shopping center that is really just a photo op for awards shows isn't cutting it.

Where PR comes in is that it takes a more holistic approach to communication and drives it through many communication points. It doesn't want to be labelled with a single piece of communication.

Like I said, the marketers are seeing through this award sham that drives agency. PR agencies don't want to fall foul of it either.
Posted on 6 May 2011 22:20
Adman
The PR industry desperately needs an awards' system.-
Then maybe you can improve on the current PR garbage that is floating around. Get some competition going to improve the poor standards. It's the best way to set the bar. Clients win, consumers win, agencies win, the country wins... now that's good PR. It did wonders for the ad industry. Don't be afraid to have your work judged by your peers.
Posted on 7 May 2011 08:28
Dan Pinch
Great to have PR award but categories are not thought through-
I think it is great to celebrate creativity in PR and in this way Loeries has a distinct difference from the PRISMs. But the categories make no sense at all. No one does a PR campaign for just one media channel - this is just taking ad thinking and applying it to PR. I do hope that there aren't other problems with these awards. I'll be very interested in who is judging this (and to see they are reputable PR people) for example.
Posted on 7 May 2011 09:46
Anonymous
To ED and Clark Kent-
Gotta agree with AL and Dan. Ed and Clark Kent, you come across as being somewhat misguided if you hold awards as your motivation. Not sure what positions you hold in the industry but step back for a moment and imagine awards were not your key drive, if doing the best possible job was your drive. Awards will follow and if you do a great job, they will. Film companies seldom begin with academy awards as their goal. They want as many people to watch their films as possible. A huge part of that is driven by PR. a HUGE part. Think about it.
Posted on 7 May 2011 13:38
Media Eagle
The mortal sins for would-be strategists-
Hi Roger.

Well let us start at the beginning. A strategist's responsibility is to fully understand the entire situation before developing a point of thought. Your responsibility was to research the position of the Loeries, the award structure and exactly how the awards are judged. You have presented an argument that is not aligned to how the Loeries have been judged over their 33 year history. Have you ever judged at The Loerie Awards? Have you even judged at the PRISM awards? If you have then you would fully understand that PRISM awards recognizes the outcome, while the Loeries recognizes the originality of the creative implementation. The role of The Loeries is not to encroach on the space of other award structures, but to remain true to its own, which is awarding creative genius.

Secondly, as a contributing writer, you are subject to the same principles and rules that any journalist is subject to. You have to present an honest, thought provoking, but well researched and factually based article. This article, while it may be well written, tends to err a bit on the sensationalist side. It presents an argument that is not balances, not well researched, and not factually sound. If you are going to judge a business, company, organization or individual, the ethical and respectful thing to do is contact the company and ask for input, explanation or comment. Did you bother to call The Loeries for an explanation? Did you even ask PRISA for comment?

Thirdly, as a PR practitioner, you have unfortunately fallen into the trap that many PR company's fall into. Forgoing "strategic" for "opportunistic". This article smacks of opportunism...you saw an opportunity to slate an organization and award structure so that you and Sentient Communications could get a bit of free publicity. Shame. I hope that is not how you advise your clients, and I certainly hope that this is not part of your strategic approach.

Simply, this article is factually inaccurate, irresponsibly and shortsighted - mortal sins for anyone declaring to be a strategist. Next time, get a better understanding of a topic or issue before offering your thoughts. Also, take time to research the issue, perhaps by contacting the players involved - they are usually very happy to help.
Posted on 7 May 2011 18:13
APR
So what?-
So what if there is a category for great PR tactics?
I work with members of the C-suite all over the world. They understand the full value of both tactical and strategic public relations AND the difference between the two.
The know that public relations delivers value to their brands and builds their corporate reputation. They are as unlikely to confuse the two as they are to confuse a trial balance with a balance sheet.
Posted on 7 May 2011 21:04
The Sham Slammer
Are you serious?? Are you actually in Advertising?-
SA is not performing well in Advertising? Do you live under a rock? SA holds one of the top 10 advertising industries in the world, and constantly gets recognized as a melting pot for creative genius - just review the international award systems and see how many SA advertising agencies feature. Stupic comment boet. Stupid.
Posted on 9 May 2011 17:35
Wank spotter
This sums up Roger's Comment - A big wank-
Roger's comment = 1 big wank for him and his agency.
Posted on 9 May 2011 17:37
Simone Puterman
Personal attacks are not permitted-
That includes name-calling. That's not constructive. However, I see that that comment described his action as a wank, so I've undeleted it.
Posted on 10 May 2011 12:06
Roger Hislop
Light breaking-
Hi Monica - thanks for taking the time out to go to the session (unfortunately being in CT means I couldn't go).

To some of the commentators above (the ones that made sense, that is...) -- this was an opinion piece intended to create debate. Contrary to assumptions made, I did speak to PRISA, and made it clear in the piece that they have thought about this matter long and hard.

The people at the Loeries and PRISA are neither stupid, nor amateurs, and the reportback by Monica bears this out.

This does not mean everyone needs to agree with their point of view.

It is also clear (at least I thoughts so, more fool me) that the opinion presented above is from a BUSINESS-to-BUSINESS PR point of view, where a creativity award for coverage is rewarding flash, not substance; and because of the relative prominence of Loeries vs Prisms, will badly skew the (already rather shaky) grasp the broader industry has of 'what PR is'.

We already have enough difficulty getting clients to understand the value in 'behind the scenes' work that is not coverage-generating. And now we're making a giant spectacle of this very thing.

And if 'patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel', then the 'ah man don't be a hater' is the last refuge of the intellectually lazy.

The bottom line for me is that a Loeries for PR may be an awesome thing to win (those statues look great in the reception area!), but does not really benefit the PR industry or its clients in the long term as it rewards 'award baiting' practices.

Similar arguments have been levelled by ad industry people at the Loeries (and other awards) for many years. These arguments are even more pertinent to the PR industry.

That being said, creativity is always a good thing, so if agencies do work they're proud of and want public recognition, good luck to them.

Who doesn't enjoy winning awards. They're tasty, but are they nutritious?
Posted on 11 May 2011 11:37

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