Today marks the start of the annual PRSA conference in Philly. Invariably this conference spawns a bunch of posts about what’s wrong with the PR industry. In spite of this meeting, PR industry leaders cannot affect the changes necessary to reverse the public’s negative perception of PR.
Confession: I used to be a member of PRSA and found little value in it. Why? A few reasons:
- My first boss was an award winning APR and a local PRSA champion. He also had six internal ethical charges filed against him in three years. I mistakenly associated the two together.
- PRSA events seemed like a great place to recruit young PR pros, but not to find clients or make senior contacts
- The seminars were skin deep
In short, spin and chest beating was abound. Nobility and right actions were not. I lost my faith in the PRSA.
Years later, blogging has provided introductions into several PR pros — some who are certified APRs — that I admire. They have shown me through their actions that PR as a profession — and that certification — can mean something. They walk the talk, and restored my faith in public relations. They understand it’s about relationships… not looking good.
This is not a defense of PR or the PRSA. I realize this business is a mess. Not one of our trade publications seems to cut the mustard. Furthermore, one angry voice in this business goes so far as to claim that it fights hypocrisy while threatening critics’ wives and calling their employers (sounds like the pot calling the kettle black to me).
PR pros are taught that it’s OK to spin. This myth spreads all the way up the ladder to the CxO suite in most companies. In essence, they think by saying the “right” thing — a.k.a. what you want to hear or what makes them look good — they are doing the right thing. But the two do not coincide. Lying to people please or position oneself as an expert creates the incredible distrust PR pros experience in the marketplace (image credit: Spin Thicket).
Most supposed PR pros and experts don’t walk the talk. They just tell you what’s wrong with PR, and how they know what’s right. They forget that public RELATIONS is about interactions, creating value in your relations by doing (not saying) the right thing, and building goodwill. And that’s why PR is such a troubled industry.
Getting Back to Relations
A better course of action is to focus on the actual meaning of PR – public RELATIONS. That means relations — as in relationships between people. Organizations – companies, government bodies, non-profits — are made up of people. People need to talk to people.
One budding meme is the public relations expert’s desire to separate PR from marketing and sales. This denies the current hybridization of PR & marketing skills that social media demands. Or the fact the most organizational PR departments are a subset of the sales and marketing department. Yet, ironically the reasoning — that sales and marketing communicate to get something — is the same jaded view that many people rightly smeer PR people with. That’s because regardless of professional label, people have forgotten the old saw — build relationships by creating value.
Any good sales or marketing person will tell you that sales is about building relationships, not getting leads. That is as old as Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill (or if you prefer, modern day leaders like Seth Godin and Jeffrey Gitomer). BTW, note the second word in public RELATIONS. See the correlation between good salesmanship and PR?
It’s time to get back to old school PR and forget about this command and control approach towards looking good. Last month, I wrote a piece on Now Is Gone dubbed, “The Art Of Participation PR.” It encapsulated the Participation Ethos as it applies to public relations. Here’s a snippet:
The dictionary definition of PR is (via Dictionary.com):
1. the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.
2. the art, technique, or profession of promoting such goodwill.
Perhaps public relations is an art. So many practitioners don’t get it (see Brian Solis article). But in my mind social media is just another form of old-fashioned public relations: creating goodwill by being a contributing, participating member of the community (see Kami Huyse article).
It’s time to get back to basics, folks. In baseball great teams make it to the World Series, because they do the simple things… They play defense, they pitch well, they execute. Great PR is about basic relationship tenements.
Be Real, Be Human
Part of relationships is being human. That’s why people really like social media. We see the good, the bad, and everything in between. We identify because it’s authentic and real. Contrary to many PR pros constant attempts to look good 100 percent of the time, humans make mistakes.
One of the most uncomfortable and unintended results of writing Now Is Gone is the desire for some folks to put me on a pedestal. I am not some guru, and I still put my pants on one leg at a time.
For every grain of knowledge I have gained, there are twenty more that I am missing. Now Is Gone was written because I got tired of being asked to free lunches everyday to explain social media. So I wrote my experience, strength and hope in one book during a ten week period. That knowledge was accumulated by listening to and reading others (see Now Is Gone sources), as well as experimenting on my own. But a book does not make me perfect or a guru.
For example, one of my character defects is a short temper that causes me to get into it with folks sometimes. This is particularly bad when I am dealing with the gemeyn shmegeges at Strumpette. But I realize I’m wasting my time. Why fight? Why bother? Rolling in the mud with pigs is never a good idea: They like it too much (or as Susan says, don’t feed the trolls). Though I try, sometimes restraint of tongue and pen slips. And believe me, I know it doesn’t make me look good, nor is it a good use of my time or energy. I ALWAYS regret these exchanges.
At the same time, BS cries of hypocrisy are inaccurate because I never claimed to be more than human. Being a PR pro does not necessitate perfect, 100% righteous behavior from me. But being a man requires a willingness to do the very best I can for my family, clients and friends every day, and to set right my wrongs when they occur. I look for progress, not perfection. And I do not associate this behavioral expectation with my career.
Charles Barkley, one of the greatest basketball players of our time, had a mid-career crisis around his rough character. He caught grief for getting in fights, saying the occasional stupid thing, etc. That passed quickly once he told people he was not perfect, and was not a role model. People liked him for he was.
Seth Godin recently had a more eloquent version of Sir Charles’ message.
I like being wrong. Not enough to make a habit of it, but enough to realize that I’m actively testing scenarios… If you need the core fact to be guaranteed right and perfect, you’re doomed, because facts like that are in short supply.
The point: If your view of PR is trying to portray a perfect image, then Get Over It. Relationships and RELATIONS are about being human — not God. Together as humans we experience life and grow together. Mistakes happen, and good PR can overcome this. Consider Dell’s incredible lesson in admitting wrongs, listening and changing. This week’s BusinessWeek story is a celebration of relations.