Monday, August 11, 2008

Are Cafeteria-Style PR Firms The Next Big Thing?

The Business Journal of the Greater Triad Area reports that a “cafeteria-style public relations franchise is opening its first store this fall.”

The outfit will “cater to small- and medium-sized businesses, offering a "menu" of public relations, marketing and advertising services on an à la carte basis, rather than charging a retainer fee.”

The Sauce
“Coming soon to an abandoned Starbucks location near you—the PR Store!”

I kid, I kid. Well, mostly.

I have no quarrel with their business model, though I have two qualms:

1. The website for the company shows that the “PR Store” mostly offers marketing services; it’s very light on actual Public Relations services. This blurring of the lines between professions is not good and continues to erode the public view of what “public relations” is. I mean, honestly, why don’t they call it “The Marketing Store”?

2. Even if the company truly marketed professional public relations services, I just plain hate the less-than-clever moniker of “PR Store.” Ugh…just when I thought there could be nothing as cheesy as “The Money Store.” It brings to mind an image of clients pushing a rickety shopping cart through aisles marked “Press Releases” “Brochure Design” and “Web Content.”

Actually, our firm offers à la carte services, too. In fact, much of our clientele fits that demo. Clearly the market need is there—especially for small-to-mid-sized companies and organizations. The article said that the company has “about 40 stores in 19 states. PR Store expects to open 350 more within the next five years." I believe it.

Lew G. Brown, associate professor of marketing at the Bryan School of Business at UNC-Greensboro, said in the article that “PR Store is the only retail marketing shop in the Triad of which he knows. The target market of small businesses are often the ones who need help in PR and marketing.”

"They may not know what they need, and if they do they often can't afford it," said Brown, who has worked as a marketing consultant. "It's a tough market, but clearly there is a need."

I couldn’t agree more. My aversion isn’t to the concept of helping small businesses with affordable services. It’s the blurring of the lines between marketing and PR. Add in the crass “store” theme and voila, the cheapening of the profession continues. It’s simply a matter of style and concern about its effects on the already-embattled public relations profession.

Contact me today to learn of ways our firm can help your business, organization or cause: a’ la carte or full service. I promise we won’t give you a squeaky-wheeled cart.

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