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.”)