What are the biggest time wasters in PR?

There is no room for waste in PR. Long boozy lunches are a distant memory. But there are still ways that you can save more time and money, it’s just a matter of pinpointing activities that aren’t paying their way and minimising them.

Martin Loat, CEO of PR agency Propeller, says that people in his team get fed up with nervous client managers who waste their time demanding extra reports and review meetings that don't add any value: “Their bosses may be happy (we hope) they haven’t got time to spend in navel-gazing meetings and presentations, so it tends to be the middle managers who demand continual justification. We just want to get on and do good work targeting external audiences.”

Loat suggests that to streamline meetings it is worth setting an end time, to reduce unnecessary chatter. Or he says it is a good plan to start a meeting at 5pm as ”most people will want to stop after an hour ... especially at a weekend!”

Another way to make your time effective is to educate clients, because as Loat points out: “We get frustrated when clients with little media profile turn down hard-chased ops for being ‘too far outside of brief’”.

Journalists complain that PROs waste their time with irrelevant press releases, but sending these out has more of an impact on PR than it does on the media. Not only does poor targeting waste time, but it damages vital relationships with the contacts. Simon Turton, managing director of Opera PR, says: “I know from talking to journalists that all too often they receive irrelevant (and poorly-written) press releases, which can only serve to reinforce the impression that PR is full of air-heads.”

As well as spending more effort targeting contacts and media, a key skill is getting through to them in the first place, as chasing responses eats up time. Angela Casey, managing director of CM Porter Novelli, Edinburgh says: “We find the biggest time wasting occurs in trying to get hold of people. And leaving messages on voicemail doesn’t help as people don’t respond to them. One PR skill that never comes into the training manuals or degree courses, is knowing how to get people to respond to requests and to be efficient in their time management. Personally, I don’t like voicemails. I should far rather reach a real person who takes a message. Chasing people, leaving messages and trying to get responses is the biggest vortex of time in our business and, as time is money in consultancy, this is not time we get paid for. Unfortunately I do not have the solution!”

In terms of keeping tabs on how money is spent in PR, Casey believes that time sheets are invaluable: “They are the most useful thing for a consultancy as, when completed properly, they create a map of the work being done and what it is costing a consultancy in real terms. I am always amazed to hear of consultancies that do not use them and I wonder how they track time spent and value to the business.”

Soundbites - What wastes your time?

John Scarrott, membership director of design body Design Business Association:

“It has to be switch tasking – moving between tasks and the time taken to refocus on each one that keeps you away from actually achieving any of them.”

Jill Hawkins, director of PR agency Aniseed PR:

“Facebook would have to be my biggest waste of time – I just pop there for five minutes at lunch time to have a break, and then whoosh! A whole hour has gone and I have to spend the afternoon catching up!”

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