The world’s top three PR agencies each earn in excess of $500 million in fees a year. The retainer that a decent-size client pays one of them would buy the annual services of about 17 of me. A report run by our sister publication PRWeek puts the average margin for a PR firm at about 14%. Another study reveals that the average shop billed $132,563 per employee and paid those employees $81,500 apiece. The point? There’s some ready cash in the hack-and-flack business. Why can’t they send me a Christmas card?
Full disclosure now: I do not tend to treat PR people gently, even the few that are mildly competent, and I don’t blame them for not digging into their voluminous vaults of cash to buy a stamp in deference to the likes of me. But computer renderings of Frosty dancing in a digital blizzard are the depressing detritus of the holidays in our post-Jobsian world. Send me nothing instead—as was the case with Salesforce.com, though I wrote about the company something like 50 times this year, only occasionally disparagingly. Here are some unfortunates who did dispatch digital tidings, however.
FCB sent me a cause-related email that asked me to create a unique snowflake, because FCB is composed of a “passionate group of thinkers, creators, technologists, and storytellers devoted to creating buzzworthy ideas.” The more snowflakes created, the more FCB will donate to Water.org. I always wonder with pitches like this: Do companies do this to grab credit for being charitable, then write a check for $738 dollars to Water.org and tell them, “Sorry, not enough losers made snowflakes?”
Fit for Commerce fit nicely into the category of “Companies that give capitalism a bad name.” Not wanting to waste one dime of the king’s ransom the company pay its PR firm, FitforCommerce used Christ’s birthday as a stage from which to launch a customer acquisition program. Under a snowy graphic of Christmas presents was a questionnaire straight from the sales force’s tool kit: Do your customers move seamlessly between carts when logged in? Can you show product shipping status? Do you have a conscience?
George Simpson Communications. George breaks one of the cardinal rules of show business: If you’re going to be irreverent about a hallowed family institution, you’d better damn well be funny. George was not. His Christmas patio shot with his lovely family used a word balloon device perhaps amusing to friends, but not to the world at large. Daughter says brother “smells like beer” and wifey asks, “Where’s my goddamed (sic) phone charger?” Did it never occur to George that taking the Lord’s name in vain on the occasion of the savior’s birthday might not showcase his PR talents at their optimum level?
CPXi deserves from props for pulling off a passable digital substitute for receiving a real Christmas card. The email image shows a beautiful blue card emerging from a deep red envelope. Click on it and you’re moved to animation in which the card pops out and opens up to wish you holiday cheer and tells you that “on your behalf,” a donation has been made to the Pajama Program. It’s a great charity that gives sleepwear and books to needy kids. But, agency folks, I’m going to say this once and don’t make me repeat it because I take no joy in saying it: We lowly writers survive partially off what an old associate of mine used to call “glom.” Apart from few actual Christmas cards, I personally also received no tins of cookies, boxes of candy, or metal ashcans filled with three flavors of popcorn. We don’t make the kind of cash agency folks do. These are an important supplement to our year-end diets.
Finally, to all of the aforementioned, have a Merry Christmas and show me some goodwill in having a little fun at your expense. PR’s a tough enough game as it is without creeps like me piling on, I know. However, I will take this opportunity to extend special holiday felicitations to those that actually did send me cards: Judy Kalvin of Kalvin PR, Sandy Pell and Team Hootsuite, Achtung, and the folks at Exchange Lab.