A PR postcard from New York

‘I don’t drink coffee I take tea my dear’, Sting, 1987. I’ve never much liked Sting. Maybe it is his music, maybe a perceived self-congratulatory nature, or perhaps I simply inherited the near-pathological loathing my mother holds for him. But after a week spent in New York and having just been served my fifth cup of milk-less tea, I really started to feel the sting of those lyrics. Just order the coffee.

A question of scale
I was one of four bushy-tailed PHA Group communications professionals selected to visit New York to spend time with our new partner agency 5W. Whilst Sting was worrying about toast, I turned detective to explore the similarities and differences between our respective agencies and media landscapes.

The first, and most obvious observation to make, is one of scale. The US population is well in excess of 320 million, in comparison to over 65 million in the UK. When you consider that 11 US states are larger than the UK, you can understand how the reach of regional media in these states can supersede some of our own. There are more titles to target, but also more news stories to fill those column inches.

Tight fit
One manifestation of this is that the US news cycle is tighter than our own, approximately 10 hours. This is a news-jacker’s paradise, but a ponderous PRO’s Inferno. You need to be sharp and adept at jumping onto trends and hot stories to secure national cut-through. The same principles for securing reactive coverage in the UK apply, you’re just often working to a slimmer window of opportunity.

It’s also arresting to see how the US media sets the global agenda. I work extensively in the business of sport and art sectors and securing coverage in the US really is the gold standard for the knock-on effect publicity there creates. A good example is what we are currently seeing with CBD, an industry dipping its toes in the UK having made ripples across the pond.

Cultural differences
Culturally, there are differences in how professionals in the US behave. It would be reasonable to measure communications in the UK as being in the upper percentile of vocations that demand confidence and an outgoing nature, but I was still taken aback by the way the New Yorkers I met held themselves. It’s hard to overstate how infectious self-belief and eloquence can be, and at times I felt I would’ve swallowed whatever PR spin was thrown my way.

Britain is stereotypically more understated and I’m not sure that same hyper-confidence would always wash over here, but there is something to learn in how those Stateside are so resoundingly succinct and bold – it is convincing to clients and journalists alike.

Relationship building
One thing I couldn’t ascertain is the precise nature of relationships between PROs and journalists in the US. PHA has several ex-journalists in senior positions, including our chairman Phil Hall, so building journalist relationships is a part of our ethos. Whether this manifests in meeting for lunch or breakfasts, we spend a lot of time getting out to meet with reporters, which often leads to better stories. My impression was that the US media is more transactional, for better or worse. That said, shrinking newsrooms across the world make it a growing struggle for journalists to get out of the office, so this is understandable.

Ultimately, agency life in the UK is much like it is in the US: fast-paced, unpredictable, occasionally hectic. Yes, the American media is supersized, but in general the same rules apply.

Though it isn’t just the media that is supersized, it’s also the portions. As I write this, it seems I might need a health and fitness client or two, as I’m starting to resemble a big apple myself.

Written by Peter Jackson Eastwood, junior account manager at PR agency The PHA Group