It’s Time for a PR Industry Debate; Here are the Topics

Posted on January 24, 2012 
Filed Under General

Let’s assume for a second that PR professionals do not agree on all issues. And let’s assume we have the opportunity to stage a PR Industry Debate, in the same “interesting” fashion as this year’s Republican debates.  Broadcast live and nationally, moderated by John King or the editor of Le Huffington Post. And let’s assume we can select five PR leaders to debate the most important issues facing Public Relations.

What would this debate look and feel like? Who would be the five debaters? Would there be nasty words flying across the podiums or would everyone make nice? Would the debaters, presumably leading PR executives, be able to articulate their points? Would they be on message? Those PRSA APR pins – would they all wear them on their lapels? And most importantly, which topics would they debate?

Given the opportunity to lay out our industry’s issues on the table, what would we choose to shine an international spotlight on?

Some (debatable) ideas:

* Will there ever be a measurement standard and how would it be rolled out?

* How can PR get a permanent invite to discussions about corporate strategy?

* Who leads social media: PR or Marketing?

* When should the PR professional serve as the spokesperson – always, never, sometimes?

* Is the press release dead or should it just be called something else?

* How can we earn the media’s respect?

* Agency/client relations – a marriage made in heaven?

* Are college PR students being properly trained to handle on-the-job challenges?

* And can they write well and tell a good story?

* How can we break down the silos between PR, Marketing, HR, IR and other key departments?

What would you add to this list or remove from it? And who would you put up on the national stage to represent our industry? Let’s get the Party started.

- Diane Schwartz

Join me on Twitter at dianeschwartz

 

 

Comments

  • https://twitter.com/#!/uKneWonCe kaMi

    * Who leads social media: PR or Marketing?
    PR is marketing.

    * When should the PR professional serve as the spokesperson – always, never, sometimes?
    They are the spokesperson.

    * Is the press release dead or should it just be called something else?
    Yes. It should be called news. and written by a journalist.

    * How can we earn the media’s respect?
    Quality, dedication, and niche marketing.

    * Are college PR students being properly trained to handle on-the-job challenges?
    The best ones haven’t been trained. They’ve lived.

    * And can they write well and tell a good story?
    I wouldn’t know . College is a club I wasn’t allowed to join.

    What would you add to this list or remove from it? And who would you put up on the national stage to represent our industry? Let’s get the Party started.

    Me. kaMi. President of the Universe.

  • http://about.me/yazmineprpro Yazmine Esparza

    * How can PR get a permanent invite to discussions about corporate strategy?
    As we build more on our capabilities as professionals and as we make ourselves known for the good business relationships we keep, we can gain a space in those corporate strategy discussions. We have to earn it.

    * Who leads social media: PR or Marketing?
    It’s a mixture of both, but I consider it more marketing with a PR-relationship element to it.

    * When should the PR professional serve as the spokesperson – always, never, sometimes?
    Sometimes it is necessary, but I prefer to give people a face that is really part of an organization. It shows accessibility, transparency, and credibility.

    * Is the press release dead or should it just be called something else?
    The press release is not dead. It only has been transformed, but it still is an important tool. I think that, instead of considering a name change, it’s more important to focus on quality writing. Those are the releases that survive.

    * How can we earn the media’s respect?
    We need to treat the media with respect and the media needs to start breaking that expectation that PR people are the devil. We both need each other, and with an ego check from both sides, things can be well-worked out. Treat it as a real, human relationship and take out those prejudgments.

    * Agency/client relations – a marriage made in heaven? Hopefully, when well managed, they can be like a successful marriage (ups and downs but moving forward).

    * Are college PR students being properly trained to handle on-the-job challenges? They are being well taught, but I tend to think that they could benefit from more field work.

    * And can they write well and tell a good story? I don’t see a link between experience and storytelling/writing abilities. Some people are born with the talent and they learn to use it strategically and apply it in a more formal, educated way, but many years of communication experience does not make you a good writer, so it’s not about levels.

    What would you add to this list or remove from it? And who would you put up on the national stage to represent our industry?
    I would add something on damage control, issues management.
    On the national stage, to represent our industry, I would definitely place Mr. Chris Graves, Global CEO of Ogilvy PR.

  • http://www.prsavvy.com Ford Kanzler & Buford Barr

    Response from Buford Barr and Ford Kanzler –

    * Will there ever be a measurement standard and how would it be rolled out?
    No. There are and will continue being a range of measurement approaches employed by PR pros depending on their perspectives and management requirements. Measuring the separate, net effect of PR campaigns or tactics in isolation from other forms of promotional communication is expensive at best and otherwise impossible. If PR is the single form of business communication being employed it most certainly can be measured in a variety of ways including, but not limited to numbers of news customers, sales transaction, revenue growth, etc.

    It’s also important to not just measure metrics, but what the company is trying to accomplish with the PR/communication program. What are its corporate, marketing, communications and PR objectives? Measure those not just dashboard metrics to satisfy the need for a ton of numbers.

    * How can PR get a permanent invite to discussions about corporate strategy?
    By becoming more fully recognized as a vital, exceptionally cost-effective contributor to business growth and not just a nice-to-have add-on to advertising. By having a far stronger and effective national advocacy organization, like the AMA for marketing or AAAA for ad agencies, that would effectively inspire brands and companies to invest in PR.

    By earning the invite! Demonstrate PR’s contribution by understanding the marketplace, the customer, the technology then setting objectives and standards then delivering.

    * Who leads social media: PR or Marketing?
    This is a classic case of the ultimate need for close cooperation between Marketing and public relations. (Blatant plug – Read – Connecting the Mind and Voice of Business) Likely there is no absolute answer to which area “leads” depends on company culture, organizational structure, market served, business model and size, personalities involved, etc. PR can be the eyes and ears of the organization. But like those organs, there should be a very close connection to the central nervous system of the organization for things to work effectively. Others within an organization ought to be highly involved. Leading social media means helping the organization speak with a concerted (not necessarily single) voice and remain well engaged with its publics. PR has traditionally been good at making that happen.

    Sadly for years there has been in-fighting between marketing and sales. Management sided with sales because they closed the sale, touched the customer and brought in the revenue. This was a myopic view from detached and somewhat ignorant (of the marketing communications function) by management. Read Dilbert. Scott Adams still has the most accurate look at corporations going.
    As with any sports, military, political or business organization success depends on teamwork, trust, collaboration, common understanding and mutual goals. We see few companies where this exists and operating globally through electronic communication only makes it a larger, more dangerous and potentially more damaging problem.

    * When should the PR professional serve as the spokesperson – always, never, sometimes?
    When a PR pro is communicating for their organization or client, they’re always acting as a spokesperson. In arranged and more formal engagements, others with appropriate titles and authority ought to be speaking. An engineering manager would speak at COMDEX, DesignCon or other technical gatherings. The CFO and CEO speak for public companies during quarterly reports. An HR manager would speak at a job fair or in an article relating to employment. There are innumerable opportunities for a range of people to speak (or write) for the company. Business media often isn’t too interested in hearing from Sales and Marketing because they’re often and rightfully suspect of painting too a glossy picture but they can and have certainly spoken well for the brand in my experience. The CEO should always be available and well prepared to speak when appropriate but speakership can and should be delegated down in an organization that wants to fully engage with its market and become vocal on the wide range of issues affecting it.

    The PR function is the primary contact with many of an organization’s key publics and thus must be fluent in the company’s operations, employees, management, technologies, products/services and programs. They are also key in crisis situations where a miss-step can be very damaging.

    PR should select the most appropriate, knowledgeable and qualified person to represent the company in any given situation. They should also provide communication (writing and speaking) training and expertise to the entire company. Manage should go through media training on a regular basis. One only has to look at BP’s handling of the Gulf oil spill to see how damaging an out-of-touch CEO can be.

    * Is the press release dead or should it just be called something else?
    The press release remains a tool that can be applied in many ways. Far from dead, the packaging of news information online can become a far richer tool than when it was a purely a print communications device. There’ve been books written on how this is being done. This is an over-reported subject.

    Yes, it should be called a NEWS release as it isn’t just used for communication with the media any longer. There are many others that can help distribute newsworthy information about a company. Plus it should be posted on the web site for visitor and media inspection. What is dead is the poorly written, fluff, out of date, company-focused “news.” Well written, timely, accurate, truly newsworthy information is still valuable and sought after by the media, bloggers and interested others. Furthermore the news release should not be the only contact one has with the mainstream media. Personal relationships, helping the journalist do their job, distributing news of interest to the media readers and listeners is still considered valuable and is effective.

    * How can we earn the media’s respect?
    By doing our job well, understanding what the media wants, respecting them professionally by not pushing junk info. Wasting journalist’s time, misleading and lying to them will quickly end a relationship. If everyone in a PR role did just those few things, most media people would appreciate PR more. Forget about the media universally respecting PR as a profession. Are you respected by the specific media people you need to work with? This is another over-reported/debated subject.

    Gaining respect requires being a professional. That is being intimately familiar with the journalists medium, their beat, their readers/listeners, their work, their interests, and their deadlines. Help them do their jobs; empathize with them. There are fewer reporters on the streets, biased media (Fox News), gossip news (Huffington Post), bloggers of all stripes, and now social media is an ad hoc news source. The journalist needs and wants PR’s support. Things are not like the use to be.

    * Agency/client relations – a marriage made in heaven?
    A marriage or a team relationship made for business success. Ideally, the relationship erases the company names on the business cards and focuses on what needs to be done. The client respects the agency for its expertise (as they would legal, accounting or financial counsel) and as their expert advocate, not as just some extra hands to execute tactics.

    Here again, the agency must earn a good relationship. PR agencies have a much-deserved reputation for doing anything for money. Isn’t that the oldest profession? The agency has a right to make money but a reasonable amount earned through consistently outstanding performance. To do that they must be an integral part of the client’s business team at all levels. They must be able to work directly with management and operations outside of the in-house PR function.

    BUT an agency is only as good as the client will allow them to be! If the client withholds information, makes unreasonable requests, will not allow the agency to make a reasonable profit, nit picks every little thing, a collaborative effort is going to difficult to realize. A good relationship takes effort and a commitment from both sides.

    * Are college PR students being properly trained to handle on-the-job challenges?
    Education in the U.S at all levels is under heavy scrutiny and perhaps well-deserved criticism. Many are referring to an education bubble, just like the real estate bubble that recently burst. Higher education is no longer a transfer of information. That can be done in many more efficient ways than classroom lecture and textbooks. Today it is the transfer of understanding. The “what and why” must be now mixed with the “how”. This transition has been slow in coming in many institutions.

    In addition in marketing and marketing communication, academia is not contributing to the practices to the extend it has in the past. Today, Google, Facebook, YouTube and young entrepreneurs are recasting the practice. What we are tying to do in PR hasn’t changed, but how we go about is rapidly changing. So whether today’s students are being properly trained for on-the-job challenges is a valid question.

    Education, via the GI Bill after World War II, helped build this country. Education allows people to reach personal fruition, achieve goals, have a meaningful life, enjoy life, and CONTRIBUTE to society. A liberal arts education teaches students how to think, how to process information and fulfills their natural curiosity. It allows them to reach personal fulfillment. Smart people visualize the future, develop the tools and technology to realize what the next generation will need for success and well being.

    “On the job challenge” is a trade school question. Before I am hung out to dry, we need more trade schools that teach the skills needed to operate a society and provide a meaningful living for many Americans. In the PR and business world, we want smart people to define the processes for making a profit AND contributing to the common good. Our students want and need meaningful (and paid) internships where they learn how to apply their education to day-to-day challenges. The business world needs to open its doors to college students and spend timing mentoring and helping them apply their knowledge. It takes a village.

    * And can they write well and tell a good story?
    Suggest some have natural talent, some learn fast, some perhaps come from a Journalism background and have learned it before coming to a PR role.

    Many can, just like others can run fast, leap tall buildings and are faster than a speeding bullet. Since Edward Louis Bernays and Ivy Lee, writing has been the primary and most sought after skill in PR and advertising. It is still the most sought after skill by corporate communication functions and agencies. And writing is a critical part of any English, Journalism, or Communication curriculum. It really should be a key part for engineering and the hard sciences. But Si, OMG, how we write is changing daily. It scares me. #prwriting. ADBB :-(
    (We all must work together to save the English language. It’s under siege.)

    Teaching good grammar, spelling, punctuation, creative thinking, writing and providing more than enough practice and critique are what we do in academia. We have courses in story-telling and certainly understand that interesting, exciting, engaging writing is what it’s all about. Most leave school with sound writing skills but just as in other mental and physical disciplines, some are better than others. All will improve with practice, constructive critiques, and greater challenges and yet more practice.

    * How can we break down the silos between PR, Marketing, HR, IR and other key departments?
    Turf wars are humanly natural. Top management needs to be aware of that and help the various groups to cooperate and not act like a multi-headed creature. Check your ego at the door and focus on what’s good for the whole organization.

    As mention earlier, success in sports, military, politics or business requires teamwork, collaboration, mutual goals, common understanding, mutual trust, leadership and flawless execution. In business (and politics for that matter) we have lost leadership to micro-management driven by the bottom line and their own bonuses. Management has allowed key operating functions to actually compete for funds, personnel, and corporate rewards. There is little cross functional communication or dedication to corporate goals rather than individual functional goals. It’s the way we operate. Business feeds the egos of management, all vying to be the next CEO, receive the largest bonus or get promoted.

    Cultures and operating styles come down from the top. This includes ethical behavior and corporate responsibility as well. Until senior management understands the importance of teamwork, integration, and collaboration it‘s not going to happen. Global operations with differing languages, time zones, mores, education and attitudes just drives a larger wedge between the functions especially sales and marketing; PR and everyone.

    Having experienced this silo affect in business we wonder if it could be caused in part by silo-ed academic organizations. In business schools we teach finance, accounting, management, OMIS, and marketing with perhaps only one or two courses designed to pull it all together. A senior student once told me that she didn’t know how a company works. WHAT!?!

    So what to do about it? Change our approach to management, business education and bring back corporate training programs like those in General Electric in the 1960s and 1970s. We can do anything we want to, but to understand why we do things the way we do…just follow the money!
    ###

  • http://www.tracecohen.me Trace Cohen

    •Will there ever be a measurement standard and how would it be rolled out?
    No, because every client wants something else. Some clients want help with credibility and branding while other just want to get visibility and coverage for exposure. Once you cross the fine line of measuring results, you begin to move into sales. Now PR, can be considered leader generation but it’s all dependent on the expectations of the client.

    •How can PR get a permanent invite to discussions about corporate strategy?
    This has nothing to do with PR. This has everything to do with the person doing PR for the company. They will only be invited to the discussion if everyone feels that they have something to add.

    •Who leads social media: PR or Marketing?
    PR is a form of Marketing, so depending on the size of the company, they should work together as they should have the same goals.

    •When should the PR professional serve as the spokesperson – always, never, sometimes?
    Sometimes. Working specifically with tech startups, I was the liason between the CEO and press but sometimes the CEO was the one to confront something or make an announcement. There is no EGO in PR, you do what is best for the client.

    •Is the press release dead or should it just be called something else?
    It should be dead because no one likes to write them or receive them. It should be called a news release now because a press release isn’t consumer facing and makes you double efforts when addressing your community and followers. Write the story you want written about you and use that for the press and community.

    •How can we earn the media’s respect?
    It goes both ways. PR professionals outnumber media 4:1 so it’s hard to gain respect or a friendship when they have to produce so much content, so quickly. And from a PR perspective, there are really only a handful of writers you want to cover your announcement, with a lot of young up and comers.

    •Agency/client relations – a marriage made in heaven?
    If you’re lucky. PR is tough because it’s all about setting expectations and meeting them. You rely on someone else and are constantly one-upping yourself based on your previous announcement. If you’re client understands the true value of PR beyond just press, then you can have a good relationship.

    •Are college PR students being properly trained to handle on-the-job challenges?
    Not really. I didn’t study PR in college and learned everything on the job. Having interviewed dozens of PR students out of college, I can easily say most weren’t prepared. This can be said for any profession though, as experience trumps textbooks and case studies.

    •And can they write well and tell a good story?
    Usually not. They are taught to write a rigid and boring press release that isn’t consumer facing. Most aren’t encouraged to write stories because it’s all about the press.

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