Actions Speak Louder than Words

by Rick on April 20, 2012

Changing the perception of the public relations industry requires more than a new definition. That shouldn’t be news to anyone. Just saying something will not make it a reality. Smoke and mirrors won’t change anything.

What’s interesting is this is not a new conversation or problem. It’s been going on since before I earned my Bachelor’s in PR way back when. It’s about much more than being able to tell people what you do for a living. There’s a fundamental lack of respect for PR practitioners in the public view, and a lot of it has to do with the vagaries of the compensation model.

I can’t even count how many management meetings I’ve been part of over the years that tried to tackle this issue, first with Hill and Knowlton and then at GCI Group. How do we improve profit margins? Can we change the business model? We also talked about those issues at seminars led by instructors from leading universities, such as the London School of Economics and Harvard Business School. We looked at it from quite a few angles and didn’t come up with much we could actually afford to implement. So we pushed the problem ahead and we’re still dealing with it.

If we want people to take PR more seriously, we need to make two big changes:

We need a greater focus on measurement and accountability.

The PR industry has to move away from selling time and best efforts and move toward being paid for results. That requires more work on developing benchmarks for what a PR program should be expected to do in both marketing and corporate situations.

We also need to find the budgets to do measurement and testing to prove what we’ve accomplished so we can start moving away from billable hours. If you’ve ever been part of a cross-discipline pitch team that includes advertising, you’ve probably been amazed at how much research and testing advertising can afford for a new business campaign. If PR could get even a small percentage of that money, we could arrive at a pay-for-performance model pretty quickly.

Finding the budget for much better research and measurement, especially quantitative measurement of our contributions to real business goals, would be a huge step forward for the PR industry.

We must improve training and development.

Our training and professional development needs to go way beyond honing communications skills. Spin Sucks fearless leader, Gini Dietrich, wrote a piece on this a few weeks ago with ‘Five Skills You Need You Won’t Learn in PR Class.’

Huh? I don’t disagree with her list, which included business, marketing, budgeting and forecasting management and leadership and a willingness to learn. And yet, I wanted to shout, “Shouldn’t these subjects already be taught as part of PR?” If PR practitioners want respect as true professionals, we need a better understanding of how organizations function and what keeps CEOs up at night.

Make no mistake—our job is to deliver what management needs. Our job isn’t telling stories or getting coverage. These are just tools. Our job is to understand and convince people both inside and outside of the organization and act as a bridge between the two.

I say forget about wordsmithing. Let’s instead commit to making the substantive improvements needed to change the negative perception of the PR industry once and for all.

What do you think?

(This post originally appeared on SpinSucks as “Shift the Perception of PR.”)

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    Measurement; accountability; training and development.

    Is it as easy as this? I believe it is, mate – here’s to those that make the decisions listening to you and stopping the crap from expanding.

    • http://RTRViews.com Rick Rice

      @dannybrown:disqus I do think that some of this is easier than we seem to want to make it. Without stepping into the scientist trap, there really are changes we can and should make that could have a big impact on how PR is regarded that aren’t rocket science. 
      Thanks for checking out the post and sharing it.

  • Pete Casiano

    Rick,

     

    I think you are right on target!  For too long many corporate communication
    leaders have defined success by the relative “ad value” of a PR release or other product/effort.  I read somewhere that using ad value is like
    answering the boss’s question about what PR brought to the table by telling her
    or him, “We spent X amount of dollars.”

     

    I think one of the more interesting elements of today’s PR
    field is how media fragmentation is blurring the lines between PR and
    marketing/advertising.  I think if PR
    professionals understand and embrace that situation and focus on collaborating
    with and understanding how marketers collect ROI data then the PR function can
    begin to better understand, collect, and provide stronger data for how it
    affects an organization’s bottom line. 
    This can only help communications teams develop more tightly focused PR plans that deliver something more than just greater awareness.  The end result will be, as you suggest, increased budgets and deeper credibility
    for the PR team.

     

    I do not mean to discount the value of impressions, per se,
    or devalue other elements/tactics used by PR teams, but as PR professionals we must continue to evolve if we are going to expand and improve our ability to contribute to moving the organization forward.  I agree with you about the measurement and accountability.  Accountability is a scary term for many PR teams.  However, I think that holding ourselves accountable and focusing more on attitudes or behaviors changed are ideas and data
    points that senior leaders will better understand and appreciate.  Great post!

     

    Pete

    • http://RTRViews.com Rick Rice

      @6d7cb89687a06828a577d16cd5920bc2:disqus,
      Thanks for reading the post and adding to the discussion.

      To me these are changes that can be made relatively quickly. The measurement component would definitely help PR increase its credibility with management. I’ve talked about this for ages and I’m hoping that we might actually move past talk and get some action.

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