PR Insider: Be A Change Agent, Not Just a PR Agent

Douglas K Spong
Douglas K Spong

I had yet to celebrate my second birthday when President John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961, and uttered the line that has survived the test of time: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” President Kennedy was a member of Tom Brokaw’s so-called “Greatest Generation,” who were born during the Great Depression and came of age through unimaginable sacrifices to win World War II.

Regardless of your politics, there’s no greater way to inspire a better world than answering President Kennedy’s challenge to “…ask what you can do for your country.” However, this act of selflessness requires PR professionals—especially Generation Me—to think outside our daily work and use our unique gifts and talents as PR professionals to change what we don’t like about the world. Odds are your employer or clients will applaud your civic action, provided it doesn’t oppose your organization’s business interests.

Here are two recent examples of how I leveraged my skills and experiences as a public relations professional to successfully influence public policy—all without getting paid a dime for my time or worrying about which clients may be offended by my stand.

“Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” – Mark Twain 

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton introduced a tax proposal earlier in 2013 that included a tax on business-to-business professional services firms, including PR and ad agencies. If successful, Minnesota would be the only state to tax PR and ad agencies, which would put Minnesota agencies in a noncompetitive position.

I helped organize the Communications Industry Coalition consisting of elected leaders and lobbyists from Minnesota PRSA, Ad Fed Minnesota, 4As Twin Cities, Minnesota AIGA, Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association, Minnesota Broadcasters Association and Minnesota Newspaper Association. My design staff developed an easy-to-understand infographic on the size and importance of the creative economy in Minnesota. I served as the spokesperson for the Coalition in countless newspaper articles and columns, radio interviews, TV interviews, online stories and trade magazine articles. I also was a keynote presenter at several business meetings on defeating the tax proposal. A microsite was launched to house all facts, figures and communications assets for Coalition members. Finally, I testified before the Minnesota House Committee on Taxes.

Within a week of my testimony at the Capitol and as a result of the business backlash and negative news coverage, Governor Dayton withdrew his proposal to tax professional services firms such as PR and ad agencies.

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.” – Malcolm X 

In November 2012, voters in Minnesota were asked to vote on a proposed amendment to the Minnesota constitution to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. All 30 states that previously introduced a similar amendment had succeeded in limiting the freedom of same-sex couples to marry. In support of inclusion and diversity, I joined the coalition Minnesotans United for All Families to lead the PR, advertising, digital and creative community in defying all odds and defeating this ballot initiative.

I spearheaded a “Creative Community Says ‘Yes’ to VOTE NO” campaign to keep Minnesota from hanging out a big “Not Welcome Here” sign to diverse audiences. This included planning and creating a fundraising event complete with invitations, speakers and entertainment for 200 communications professionals; purchasing a full-page ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune Sunday issue preceding the election; serving as a media spokesperson in countless print and broadcast stories and authoring a byline op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

I’m proud to say that Minnesota became the first of 30 states to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage, opening the door for the Minnesota legislature to legalize same-sex marriage beginning Aug. 1, 2013.

Douglas K. Spong, APR, Fellow PRSA is the founder and president of Carmichael Lynch Spong. Email him at Follow Douglas on Twitter: @DougSpong.