I’ve heard it said many times: PR is broken. I used to nod my head knowingly and agree. But then a few years ago I came to the realisation that PR isn’t broken, it actually works far too well.
Instead – although not always of course – it is journalism that is broken. The media routinely rewards the most flimsy of press releases with unchallenged and unfiltered coverage. This is particularly rife in the online, 24-7 trade press, where a slow news day is more often the norm.
My PR fluff radar went through the roof this week when I received a press release from Starling Bank, one of the UK’s crop of challenger banks aiming to re-define consumer banking for the digital age.
“Starling Bank to pilot debit card delivery by drone,” read the release, before detailing that the bank had tested different models of drone as well as the weight of Starling’s new debit cards and packaging (less than 1lbs, apparently), and that the product team were ready to take the tests to the next level.
“Plans to use the drones for the challenger bank’s official launch at the beginning of 2017 are now in discussion,” wrote the company. Note the words “in discussion”, but, regardless, so far, so good, you might say.
But then came the killer. Along with acknowledging that Starling will need to cross a few regulatory hurdles were this ever to be commercially tested, it is revealed that the drone delivery tests have all been short distance flights no further than 400ft, either indoors or within personal garden spaces.
In other words, if you happen to live next door to Starling Bank or whichever company it is using to issue its debit cards, you are fully debit card drone delivery-tested. And that’s without factoring in things like security. There’s a reason why banks often send credit/debit cards by signed delivery or to a local branch.
Unsurprisingly, I chose not to run the story, and instead sat back and watched which publications bit. I’m glad to say that no one in the tech media picked up on the press release (as far as I can see) but a number of financial trade publications did, almost verbatim. I’m not going to call them out – always stay classy – but I will share this comment posted by a reader of one publication because it perhaps sums it up best.
It must be a very slow news-day at [redacted] for you to run this sort of gratuitous clickbait. This is the sort of article that degrades the value of your reporting (which on the whole is excellent).
PR isn’t broken, journalism is.
Also, I mean no criticism towards the team at Starling, some of whom are regular readers of this newsletter. As I always say, great PR if you can get it!
Bonus: Which European challenger bank recently turned down an acquisition offer from an incumbent, something somebody was very keen to leak to the press?