SharedViews: Respect for Public Relations?

by Rick on June 29, 2012

I’m sharing some of the items I’ve been reading while wondering if those of us in public relations are ever really going to do the things necessary to get the respect most people in this business deserve.

I’ve said that I don’t think we need a new definition of what we do, but you should check out what Harold Burson, co-founder of Burson Marstellar had to say a year before the new definition was revealed and just after:

Public Relations Defined – Harold Burson’s Blog 4/20/2011

A “Modern’ Definition of Public Relations? Why? – Harold Burson’s Blog 3/5/2012

I also think that Paul Holmes of the Holmes Report makes quite a bit of sense in this essay.

What Is A Public Relations Consultancy?

 One of the big points both Burson and Holmes are making is that we’ve gotten too caught up in our push to publish a story at the expense of being consultants and business advisors to the organizations we work for. Telling the story is only part of what public relations needs to become again.

Jack Martin, global chairman and CEO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies makes that point in his Fifth Seat Philosophy that the Holmes Report quoted in this article:

 “When faced with significant strategic decisions, companies traditionally turn to four advisors: legal counsel, investment bankers, management consultants and forensic accountants,” the firm’s website explained. “Each is trusted to review their area of expertise, but none factor public trust into their final analysis. We fill a Fifth Seat in your boardroom, helping transform your corporate reputation into competitive advantage.”

All of these are making me think about what we should be doing differently. Sure, we’ve got people in this business who don’t live up to high standards, but what profession doesn’t? Step up and throw the first stone if you think you work in one that doesn’t make mistakes… Most of us, however, work very hard at doing the job right. But we need to work on our industry’s reputation.

Before I post more of my ideas, what do you think?

  • As we were talking about on Twitter, I don’t really know what the answer is to the problem. Having been a journalist for 20 years, I see we have rather similar image problems in both industries – problems each industry caused by becoming fat and lazy. You know how many reporters thought all they had to do to write an article was to pick up the phone and make a couple of calls? You shoulda heard me rip into them if they couldn’t get  an article done because their source “didn’t call back.”

    Sigh. Don’t get me started.

    • Amy,

      Most of my friends in the news business would agree with you completely. Perhaps we, particularly in PR, did get fat and lazy. That doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. 

      I need to find a windmill… 

  • In the Holmes Report (Jack Martin: The Insurrectionist), I think Paul Holmes pinpointed a key to improving PR’s effectiveness when he said, “…what makes Jack (Martin) unique is that his counsel goes beyond PR.  He is in the boardroom and he is a communications advisor and a political advisor and a business advisor.”

    If we expand our view of ourselves beyond that of just media/communications advisors by also viewing ourselves as “business advisors,” we will give ourselves the full advantage of what we bring to our organizations.  When be begin to leverage our capability by shaping our PR efforts to positively impact our businesses, I believe we will also be able to help other corporate leaders realize what a powerful business capability their PR team represents.

    • Pete,

      Great to see you here and hope you’re doing well. I agree that one of the things we have to become better at is being a business advisor. What Jack Martin is talking about for Hill+Knowlton Strategies would be a return to what that agency was like when I first worked there in the ’80s. There was a much greater focus on being useful in the boardroom.

      Thanks for the comment!

  •  Interesting post Rick.

    This past week during our #bizforum Twitter debate on Customer Service I challenged the group to debate: “Modern Customer Service is replacing PR. Agree/Disagree”. The exchange was insightful but the sub-story that stood out to me was the general consensus that Customer Service has evolved to become more intertwined with the customer experience across the entire customer lifecycle whereas PR seemed stuck. It used to be said that Customer Service was an “after the fact” function or there to maintain status quo but has emerged as a more strategist or consultant to the brand. The fact that it was customer service being called out in this role as opposed to PR is an interesting statement on the current view of PR but business leaders.

    • Sam,

      I wish I was surprised by that but I’m not. Too many people in PR have become so focused on one thing, placements, that they really have forgotten what the heck this is supposed to be. When I read Harold Burson’s pieces I can only wonder what some of my other early mentors would say. 

      I’m probably preaching to the choir, but what the heck?

  • Great, to-the-point post, Rick. I would agree with the statement that PR practitioners have moved to the business adviser/consultant role without business leaders acknowledging it or recognizing it. PR practitioners are more important than ever because so much is public and front-facing. I’m of the belief that we, as practitioners, see so much before others and the whole “thinking outside of the box” is more important than ever before.

    • I think some of us do, Stacey. It is heartening to see someone taking over one of the big agencies who thinks that way. On the consulting side of this business I think we’ve gotten trapped into a business model that is all about hours with placements and readers as a metric instead of business results.

      My biggest worry is whether the younger people in the business are even really being taught about the bigger job of PR. Meanwhile, too many of ‘our’ peers are missing the boat on new technology and not seeing how much it makes possible. 

      Thanks for the comments.

      • The local chapter of the PRSA is so far behind on the use of new technology it is frightening and the graduating classes I’ve spoken to are out of touch as well. It’s really scary that the kids coming out of college today are really not prepared at all for the big ol’ world ahead of them!

        • And there isn’t enough training in the big ol’ world ahead of them to get them caught up.

  • Rick this is really well said. I think in response to one of you comments you say the younger generation isn’t really learning the true value of PR and I think that’s where the problem stems from partially. The “big picture” vision and strategy behind what we do seem to be foreign concepts to the younger folks and many of my peers. I think earning that seat at the table comes from showing impact and having metrics to show for why we are important and why you need your PR person by you at all times. This is def. a thought proving post! 

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Maja.

      Improving the professional development provided at all levels of this business, and continually broadening our skill sets, need to be greater priorities in the public and private sectors. 

      And, as you said, moving to results oriented metrics has to become a priority.

      Hang in there for the next two weeks.

  • It’s a little push-pull. “At the expense of being consultants and business advisors to the organizations we work for.” That’s the heart of it. PR is about doing business; there’s not a business in the world – large or small – that can do anything without communicating. Communication goes well beyond marketing, but as @twitter-18995919:disqus mentioned it’s now the CRM and call centers; it’s territories and divisions fighting for budget scraps; it’s the ‘free’ publicity that’s taken front seat to what PR really is. Businesses – not wanting to take the time and expense of strategic relationship building and reputation management, two PR functions that don’t have cheap, easy fixes – are going for the shortcuts and not looking to PR for true business consulting. And we’re as much to blame for giving into that. Businesses make money, save money, do more, work smarter – all via better communication. And yes, most of us do work very hard to make it so. FWIW.

    • Davina,

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m not advocating that we stop communicating. Sorry if I left that impression. But I do believe that we’ve got to get back to being more than that. We’ve got to make many changes and keep working hard at doing the right things.

      • No, no I didn’t think that at all, I was actually agreeing with you. To me, PR is communication and it just seems that communication (and PR) – when not in service of sales – has lost respect, its place as an essential business function. Sorry my comment wasn’t clear.

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