If anyone knows how to be upbeat in a crisis it is someone working in PR. So it’s hardly surprising that Danny Rogers, the editor of PR Week, manages to find the bright side to the credit crunch, suggesting that the PR industry could benefit from the downturn.
‘There is an argument that says in times of structural change and crisis you need PR to communicate change and to keep your reputation strong,’says Roger, before adding, ‘It doesn’t look like the industry has been affected by the credit crunch, although that may change.”
Recruitment revenue for PR Week remains strong, says Rogers, who also says that when it comes to cutbacks PR is in a strong position because it represents better value than advertising. Shortly after our meeting, however, Plimsoll Analysis announced that up to 1,164 jobs could be lost as the PR industry consolidates over the next 12 months.
Rogers says that it is just the forecast of one analyst, and is a relatively negative perspective. ‘It is contradicted by generally positive trading statements from many PR firms until now. Generally the PR industry appears to be holding up well in the downturn, as clients seem increasingly happy to invest in an industry that remains cost-effective and is becoming much better regarded.”
With the state of the economy making the headlines daily, Rogers is keen for PR Week to break into corporate communications. Following a redesign last month, a double-page spread is now devoted to City and corporate PR each week. Rogers plans to hire a City and corporate specialist to expand the magazine’s coverage with the aim of making it essential reading in the City.
PRâ€ˆWeek, which has a net circulation of 17,044 (of which 732 are newsstand, 13,173 are subscriptions and 3,139 are free) and claims a readership of around 50,000, has ‘total penetration’in the PR industry, and more journalists are reading it than ever before, says Rogers. Following a string of exclusives on changes to Gordon Brown’s PR operation, PRâ€ˆWeek has also has become vital reading for politicians, he says.
The magazine began making an impact at Westminster this March when it reported a rejig in Number 10’s communications team and that former Which? director of communications Nick Stace was appointed to a strategic advisory role.
A follow-up feature examined the communications operation in Number 10 and indicated that director of political strategy Spencer Livermore had been sidelined.
Livermore subsequently resigned and after a string of stories about Gordon Brown, (including breaking the tale about his 6am calls to members of the public) Downing Street apparently warned against PR Week becoming ‘the new house journal of Number 10″.
PR Week found itself in the headlines, attracting more press coverage than in the rest of its 24-year history, says Rogers, who insists the stories were not leaks.
‘After that, the momentum gathered. We started getting a lot of different stories about Gordon Brown sacking his speech writer and bringing in a number of strategic people,’says Rogers. ‘The more people going in and out of Downing Street the more sources you have for stories – the more people who are not there any more who have connections.”
The collection of scoops was a team effort, coming from reporters Matt Cartmell and Clare O’Connor, news editor David Singleton – who for his efforts picked up business journalist of the year in Haymarket’s internal awards – and a variety of sources. PR Week won best business magazine in the group for the second consecutive year.
The editorial staff of PR Week numbers 15, including seven reporters. Rogers explains that with web stories out of the way in the morning, his staff are encouraged to get out and about to meet contacts.
‘The online pressures mean that there is a temptation for managers to keep people in the office. I resist that,’says Rogers. ‘I always say get out and about. I’m a big believer in journalism being about breaking stories, and that is what sets us aside from citizen journalists or bloggers in their bedrooms.
‘Good journalism is about access, going to the right events and talking to the right people. Unless you break good stories, you can’t set yourself apart from hundreds of citizen journalists coming on to the scene. Obviously the other thing that sets you aside is pure quality in production and writing, but we have to keep breaking stories,”
The news industry’s alleged over-reliance on the PR industry, as explored in Nick Davies’ book Flat Earth News, has generated much discussion, but Rogers says that while the book provides a good analysis of journalism, he thought Davies showed a lack of understanding of the PR industry.
‘Essentially his debate was about the resourcing of journalism, and his book brought that debate to a head,’he says. ‘But the idea that PR people would try and set the agenda was obvious – of course they’re going to try to set the agenda, but it’s up to journalists to filter that.”
Rogers believes it is a question of resources: if media owners put more into journalism then the industry would be better placed to filter and resist the pressure from PR.
‘It’s a pluralist society, so everyone has a right to put their arguments to the media through PR. It’s up to journalists to sort the wheat from the chaff and to test claims,’he says
Rogers, along with two of his reporters, started his career in PR in 1991, working for five years in the industry before moving into journalism as a freelance writer for PR Week for a year before becoming a reporter on Marketing.
After three years there he freelanced for The Guardian and the Financial Times, before rejoining Marketing in 2002 as deputy editor.
Rogers, who is 41, took over the editorship of PR Week in 2005, and oversaw the relaunch of PrWeek.com later that year.
Finding a harmonious relationship between the website and magazine hasn’t been as difficult for PR Week as some other media publications, he says. Since the redesign, Rogers plans to break the majority of stories online with further analysis in the magazine.
With no other publication to compete with on breaking PR industry news, Rogers admits it’s easier for PRâ€ˆWeek to hold
stories for the magazine: ‘We’re fortunate in that we’re the dominant magazine in our sector, so it’s tougher for nationals, where you have such vicious competition. We like to hold the bigger stories back for the magazine so we have something fresh.”
While it is too early to tell if the recent redesign, and new web strategy have had a big impact on circulation, Rogers is confident: ‘It’s been a very good year. “