I am excited to share this guest blog post from Paul Roberts, a 15-year PR veteran with a combo of agency and corporate experience. He has spent the last decade working primarily in high tech public relations / communications for a variety of early-stage organizations and established brand companies. His blog covers all things PR related, including how social networking is and isn’t going to change the industry.

Much has been written over the years regarding why PR is so important that it should be a C-level function. There are books, PowerPoint presentations, lectures, articles and blogs written on the topic and (almost) all of them make very strong cases why PR should be a business-driving strategic discipline.

So, if it is so clear that PR should have C-level influence – then who exactly is to blame for keeping PR down? Get out your torches and pick folks it is time to storm the castle and make the guilty parties pay…the guilty parties include:

  • That PR firm that is able to get significant coverage for an insignificant announcement
  • The PR director that secures an industry analyst or customer quote at the 11th hour
  • The PR team that delivers full feature length coverage without the time to conduct pre-briefs
  • The PR veteran who is able to book several briefings without clear messaging or with cumbersome NDA forms

In other words, look in the mirror PR folks for you are to blame!

The reason PR hasn’t overtaken marketing as the key communications functional operations center is because we are victims of our own success. PR professionals have become so adept at dealing with less than optimal conditions that the C-suite has – for lack of a better phrase – taken PR for granted.

How many times have the trusted communications professional advised the CMO, the CEO, the client or any other higher pay-grade position that in order to achieve the desired results:

  • we need more time to pre-brief reporters or
  • you can’t have 6 company quotes in the press release or
  • we need to have a referenceable customer
  • no way will the reporters agree to sign a 5-page NDA
  • we can’t issue our biggest product news on July 3rd

Yet at the end of the day in almost all the above scenarios the PR function would find a way to be successful in garnering the desired level of coverage. No good deed goes unpunished.

Yes, imagine telling your mechanic “I know I shouldn’t put water in my gas tank, and I didn’t change my oil for 5 years, but I’m going to give you 20 minutes to rebuild my engine.” Only to have the mechanic say, “Well, you should have brought me into the process earlier and 20 minutes isn’t a long time, but here is your rebuilt engine as good as new and I threw in a free tank of gas.

Okay, so we’ve established that we are to blame. So, what to do about it?

There are a couple of options: We could hold a PR strike — picture it, the industry bands together and refuses to issue any press release or launch any product until our conditions are met…um, never mind that sounds too hard and we don’t need any more out-of-work PR people.

We could push for industry-wide standards, training and certification to unite us all under a common organization that will fight for us…um, actually, I’m not much of a joiner, so forget about that idea.

Okay, on second thought, there is only one option: PR can continue to do its job, strive to meet the highest degree of professionalism and maintain high ethical standards, and expand our area of expertise to (rightfully) include social media (a battle PR is winning according to latest research) and other emerging media and communications vehicles.

If we continue down the path of hard work and professionalism, we may eventually see a shift in the job description for PR positions from the current, PR professional needed – must be team player, flexible, able to react quickly and adapt to PR professional needed to run marketing department.

7 thoughts on “Are PR Professionals Victims of Their Own Success?

  1. I’m all for firing up the horse and buggy and standing in front of a large corporation’s headquarters to yell incessantly about the injustices being foisted on our public relations brothers and sister. On second thought, I have to finish three feature stories, ghost a speech for the CFO, conduct some media training for three of the worst c-suite public speakers I’ve had the displeasure to encounter, clean up an oil spill in the parking lot of my petro client, wash the CEO’s car and bake three dozen muffins for the corporate retreat I’ve been asked to put together in 48 hours. My children hate me but I’m REALLY good at my job.

    This was a great piece. But, then, a professional like Jules seems to attract the best and brightest in our profession. Not me, of course, but the rest of you folks. Gotta go. A client’s asking me to write a comprehensive public relations plan in advance of an IPO in 12 hours.

    1. Thank you and I agree: PR people suffer because they work harder than they are often recognized for. Who is to blame? I think you know how I feel about this.

      Call me when you have time for the horse and buggy. That sounds fun!
      ~ J

  2. Great read! Whatever the title of the C-suite officer, communications certainly needs a seat at the table because of the overarching impact any decision could make on everything from reputation to brand to sales. In my opinion, PR’s Achilles heel lies in our missed opportunities to define our strategy for all the tools we produce so efficiently.

    As a solo PR practitioner, I have been working more and more closely with my Marketing pro pals to better serve clients. It’s rather interesting in that none of us seems to use the same vocabulary (Channel or tool, audience or customer, goal or objective – oy!). From some of the innocent comments I hear, it is no wonder that PR has such a hard time getting respect in the traditional business structure because of a few key misconceptions and assumptions.

    Many marketing vets who pride themselves on Big Picture branding strategy see PR as just the tactics that carry things out. They don’t assume that PR pros are looking for strategic rationales to do those press releases and write those newsletter articles. By the same accord, PR pros might assume that those in advertising and marketing only care about neat logos and cume numbers or cost-per-lead rather than actually building rapport with the constituent. I believe those who are really good at their job (any of those above) DO tend care about the total product from research to results.

    What separates the tactical from the strategic in any of the disciplines, from my observation, is the ability to articulate why you are doing what you are doing. What are the key messages? Do their constituents understand what a company is trying to convey? Is it part of the big picture? My opinion is that the closer us communications professionals work together, the more we can get over the “language barriers.”

    Thanks again for the great article!

    1. Thanks KathleenAs a solo PR practitioner, Interesting point “that none of us seems to use the same vocabulary.”

      Regarding respect, it is up to the PR to earn/demand/demonstrate need for it. I do not find that to always be the case, but if one cares about the profession, they will step it up a bit to address the few key misconceptions and assumptions.

      Thanks for visiting.

  3. Benjamin, Kathleen and (of course) Jules, thanks for commenting on the post. The future and the respect of the PR industry will continue to be issues that we need to deal with for a long time, but it is good to know that there are so many good, smart and active PR folks in the industry. In the long run if PR is to get the respect it deserves it will be because of people (like you).


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