Is the quality of our (PR) work judged by our standards?

I have always been a big believer in the important role that professional bodies play in the world of Public Relations.  Promoting a common set of standards across this reputation-challenged profession is a good thing. 

However, with no common enforced regulations, perhaps the quality of our work can by judged by the standards we set for ourselves?

There was recently a great guest post by Jean Valin and Daniel Tisch on the PR Conversations blog discussing the Melbourne Mandate (and this week For Immediate Release posted an interview with Jean and Daniel on the Mandate), which aims to define a set of roles, responsibilities and principles for PR practitioners.

From the website:

Today, unprecedented public access to communication presents new challenges and opportunities for organisations – and for global society. This presents a new mandate for public relations and communication management: a set of roles, responsibilities and principles hereby endorsed by delegates to the 2012 World Public Relations Forum in Melbourne, Australia.

The new mandate

Public relations and communication professionals have a mandate to:

  • define and maintain an organisation’s character and values;
  • build a culture of listening and engagement; and
  • instill responsible behaviours by individuals and organisations.


I’d strongly recommend you to take some time to review the Melbourne Mandate and see how it applies to the work you’re doing.

The Global Alliance for PR and Communication Management is behind the Melbourne Mandate. It’s an organization that represents many of the world’s largest PR professional bodies and is also involved in the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, a set of proposed standards for measuring Public Relations.

Given the changes taking place in the world of communications this is a good thing.  As I’ve said before, as long as PR agencies are using proprietary measurement as a competitive differentiator we’re in trouble.

Bonus: Read Andy West of Hotwire PR on the importance of supporting the measurement debate

PR needs Jacks and Jills of all trades

One of the wonders of the English language is that it’s always evolving. For example, according to Wikipedia (disclaimer: it is Wikipedia so the following information may have no basis in fact and could actually have been made up by a seventeen year old sitting in his bedroom, but because it serves my purpose I’m going with it) the figure of speech “Jack of all trades, master of none” actually started out as “Jack (or Jill) of all trades” and was meant in a positive way about someone who was a master of integration.

I believe being a ‘Jill of all trades’ in PR is something to be embraced and encouraged.

One of the challenges and great characteristics of Public Relations is change. While many of the core tenets of good Public Relations practice remain, the actual day-to-day work of a PR professional today is a sea change from when I started working in PR just over twenty years ago. We’ve new tools, new challenges, new demands, new opportunities.

A PR professional today must have the ability to build compelling, long term strategies, understand their (and client’s or employer’s) business and the broader business environment, be conversant in new tools and approaches, be pragmatic about choosing the right tools for the right job, and be creative.

Having a broad set of experiences is a benefit not a disadvantage. Great PR people can integrate and use traditional and social tools, they are comfortable analyzing data, good writers, great connectors, have the ability to scenario plan, to think quickly and clearly. The list goes on and on. But ultimately you need a broad set of knowledge, skills and experiences to succeed in the profession today.

There are of course people who operate as ‘specialists’, but the vast majority of successful practitioners have developed a broad set of skills and continue to drive themselves to broaden their knowledge whether its new tools, new ways of engaging audiences, new ways to measure impact or the lack thereof.

For today’s PR professional, being a Jill or Jack of all trades, and master of none is often both an advantage and a compliment.

You better hope that journalism makes it

For all the talk about the death of media, mainstream media, traditional media, broadcast media, print media and online media, since the turn of the century, they’re still hanging on. Sure circulations are down, many traditional papers have closed down, slimmed down or moved online.  But thankfully we still have the media, we still have journalists.

Social media has been great giving people a platform to share their opinions, but it doesn’t negate the need for journalists.

This isn’t a post about bloggers not being journalists by the way.


The world isn’t that simple anymore. 

Some bloggers are journalists, some are not. Regardless everyone has opinions and thanks to social media they can share those opinions.  On the whole, and in view of the alternative, that’s a good thing.

However, after twenty years in the Public Relations business, I remain more convinced than ever that journalists are an essential and valuable asset that we must support and protect. 

Their cause hasn’t been helped by the confusion surrounding business models in a world that has a cacophony of often free content. But the value of free content is often tied to the cost. 

If you catch my drift.

As I’ve often said before the great thing about opinions is that everyone has one, and the downside is the same.

We need journalism because we need someone to be looking at our world in an objective manner. Yes I know there are sometimes issues, as I already mentioned, I’ve worked in PR for over twenty years.  I know the issues.

However, in a world of vested interest, give me traditional journalism any day.

I read a lot of blogs.  I read them with a filter.  We know that people (present author included) write blogs for a reason, and it’s not often to do with the finding the truth. People want to showcase their knowledge, share insight, push an agenda, sell their wares. There’s nothing wrong with any of these motivations, but let’s not pretend that it’s a replacement for journalism, it’s an adjunct – at best.

The bottom line is that society needs journalism regardless of your views or leanings.  The medium may indeed be the message, but it doesn’t matter if  journalism is in print, video, audio or online.  What matters is that we have people involved in looking at our world with an objective lens.

Blogs are a tool, they aren’t a replacement for the practice of journalism.

We should all try and remember that.

As the old song goes, all god’s creatures have a place in the choir.

PR reading for the weekend – July 15, 2011

David Reich has a post about a survey that asked what PR people don’t like about PR. Topping the list is ‘cold calling’.  OK I can understand that.  But what was second on the list? What was the second greatest thing that PR people don’t like about PR?  Apparently it’s having their press releases heavily edited. Seriously? We PR folks are precious creatures aren’t we? My first press release was so heavily edited that you actually couldn’t see the original words.  The funny thing is that it was such a disgrace I actually kept it.  When I moved to Seattle I found it when I was packing up my home office.  I scanned it, but nearly twenty years on I still won’t share it, I’d be mortified.


Judy Gombita has an interesting interview with Arthur Yann, vice president of Public Relations for the PRSA. When asked about what he finds professionally frustrating he answered:

I recently wrote about one of my biggest frustrations for the PRBreakfastClub blog. And that is, the number of self-proclaimed experts on Twitter and other social media platforms.  I mean who or what qualifies so many opinions? On what basis in fact are many statements made? Do these industry “observers” actually know anything about what it is they’re commenting about? Have they read and do they understand what they’re re-tweeting, given the third-party perception is that they’re endorsing the content?

Now there’s a man after my own heart. Amen.


Heather Yaxley has a post that suggests that journalists and PR practitioners should never be friends. I don’t agree. I’ve worked in this business for nearly twenty years and I’m lucky to count a number of journalists – both in Europe and the United States – as friends – all of whom I’ve met through my work. I don’t buy the Tiger analogy (read the post). As a professional there’s a church and state relationship. If there’s mutual respect and professionalism there’s rarely a problem, if you don’t have either then I’d suggest you’re not friends.

On the PR Conversations site, Heather has an interview with the wonderful Richard Bailey who describes the current state of Public Relations as:

It’s exciting. Public relations is universally needed but widely misunderstood and derided. It’s needed more than ever because of the disruptive power of digital communications, yet is also under threat because of the convergence of communications disciplines.



You may have seen this already, but via the Lois Paul & Partners Beyond the Hype blog the fantastic Jon Stewart take on the News of the World scandal (not sure if this is available outside the U.S.)…. and personally I think Hugh Grant deserves a lot of credit.



Finally, I enjoyed reading The Atlantic’s “14 Biggest Ideas of the Year” – hat tip to Piaras Kelly.


Have a nice weekend…

Branson on CSR and Reputation

Not surprisingly, Richard Branson is always one of the old reliables when it comes to people choosing their ‘most admired business people’. 

It’s not by mistake.  Branson represents one of the most acceptable faces of business.  He’s an entrepreneur, an adventurer, a risk taker, but most of all he’s a great boss and by all accounts a nice person.

He was at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles yesterday and I’m always interested in hearing what he has to say.

Two particular parts of his interview were interesting.

His view on how businesses can become a force for good:

Well, I think when you start a business the only thing that really matters is survival. You shouldn’t have to worry about trying to rescue and sort out other people’s lives, just make sure that you can make your business survive. Once you’ve gotten past the survival stage, then I think we can’t in the past people left it up to politicians, and social workers to sort out the problems of the world, and businesses just created jobs and the wealth. I think now, what a lot of good business leaders have realized is that all businesses must become a force for good. And small businesses can be a force for good in their local area, bigger businesses nationally, and even bigger businesses internationally, because enormous wealth can come with being a successful business leader. And, therefore, enormous responsibility goes with that wealth.

At Virgin, you know, we use our entrepreneurial skills to look at some of the seemingly intractable problems in the world, and see if we can tackle them differently than they’ve been tackled. So, conflicts in the world, and there haven’t really been really good conflict organizations going in to resolve conflicts.

His view on the importance of reputation:

Well, your reputation is all you have in life. So, your personal reputation, and the reputation of your brand. And, you know, if you do anything, anything that damages that reputation, you can destroy your company.

Pretty simple and straightforward.

You can read the full transcript here.

Some PR reading for the weekend

Here are some common sense posts on various aspects of Public Relations.

Heather Yaxley has a nice post on PR Conversations: Future leaders need more than digital PR:

The beauty of building your career around knowledge and skills gained in public relations is that you have transferable competencies that offer a solid basis for extending your career laterally or progressing upwards. Indeed, the multi-direction potential is substantial – enabling you to craft a career tapestry that is individual and original. Undoubtedly digital PR will be a thread weaving through organizations going forward – but if you are to look back on a successful and rewarding picture of your working life, I recommend, you don’t rely on this talent alone.

The irrepressible Jeremy Pepper tells it as he sees it, as usual, in his post Has PR Lost the Fire in its Belly?

We’ve become so tired of the good fight, that we just go with the flow. And, yes, that’s a lot of what is happening in public relations nowadays: the real seasoned communications veterans who wear their battle scars with pride are getting tired of the fight, and the new "senior" people – more like junior staff without the experience to do what is needed and right – just going along for the ride.

Elena Verlee has a honest to goodness common sense post on building long-term PR relationships in a digital world:

Thought leadership doesn’t happen overnight. Neither do relationships in business or with the media. Taking the time to sow good seeds, nurturing them carefully and with patience, will allow you to reap the return of a bountiful harvest — sometimes sooner, sometimes later.

Jason Falls’ post on The PR Guide To Email Pitching and his follow up The Blogger’s Guide To PR’s Email Pitches are worth a read:

Yeah, I know it sucks. I used to think PR was easy, too. I’d download my list of 400 outlets that qualified under my target parameters, copy and paste my press release and hope like hell for some pick up. I’d follow up and call about 15 key media outlets and develop the relationship part, maybe get 5-6 of them to bite on the story, along with the 2-3 dozen small town newspapers that were so starved for content they copy-pasted my release, and made my clients or bosses happy.

Relax, PR will be around long after the hype has gone

Sometimes you happen upon a blog post title in your RSS reader (yep I’m old school) that grabs your attention. 

Great headlines work.

Unfortunately you then read the post and find it has the consistency of a marshmallow, it’s gooey and melts away pretty quickly and has little substance.

That was my reaction to to David Armano’s post: Does PR have a Future?

Now let me say up front that I’ve read and watched a lot of David’s content and opinions and I’m not questioning that he brings a lot of insight, and value to the whole social media discussion, but this post isn’t one of his high spots.

I thought it was a good excuse to address some of the PR and social media related observations you see expressed regularly.

Social media is increasingly being used across business – yes it is because social media is a set of tools and channels that can add business value in a number of areas including marketing, investor relations, research, sales and customer support.

Social media is the most important thing to business – no, I’m afraid not.  It is of course important and useful, but you’ll find that financial management, creating great products, attracting and retaining great staff, providing great services and many other functions remain as important as ever – and arguably more important than some tools and channels. Will we no longer need sales people because ‘we’re all sales people’ and we’ll just put the products up on Facebook? Really?

Marketing/PR is dead, dying or going away – are you mad? Yes social media provides a great human interface to a company, yes it’s a powerful set of tools to reach and engage with people, but guess what, we still need people focused on the strategic imperatives of an organization, we still need people thinking beyond 140 characters.  When someone has an issue, what will they do? Will it be a great experience to send a random tweet in the hope it reaches someone who can help them? Really?

Everyone is a spokesperson – Firstly, I really marvel at how we make comments that ‘each employee becomes a representative of the company every time they engage in public’ like this is something new. It’s not. Of course social media amplifies the impact, but it’s not a eureka moment.  It presents opportunities and challenges for employees and companies, but how does it negate the need for professional communicators? Is this the transformation of product planning to an infinite number of employees in a room banging away on social media?

Businesses are becoming more social and rigid job descriptions will go away – OK businesses are becoming more social, but do we really think that everyone will move into a mass of generalist roles where we spend some of our day doing different jobs? How do we think that’s manageable? How do we think that’s a great idea? Why do we think that social media tools outweigh the value of real world experience, insight and knowledge? It doesn’t.

David closes by saying:

If "everyone" is a spokesperson to some degree—does public relations cease to exist? It’s probably not that simple since the reality is that "communications" will not end up as a free for all activity, but as something which evolves into more than just communicating but also interacting. In my mind—the key is relationships. Manage the relationships between all critical stakeholders who can make or break your business, and you hold the key to a more sustainable way of doing business. Sound like PR?

He’s right no it’s not that simple. There won’t be a free for all.  And yes PR is about managing relationships, it’s also about communications, it’s about problem solving, it’s about strategy, it’s about hard decisions, it’s about many things beyond using tools.

Here’s an idea. Why don’t we focus the discussion on how social media enhances an organization rather than trying to create doomsday scenarios which frankly aren’t based on any insight into how a business works, and shows a complete disrespect for the knowledge, skills and insights of a whole cabal of professional people beyond PR.

Pithy phrases and throwaway opinions don’t move the exploration of social media forward, they just reduce it’s credibility.

But of course, that’s just my opinion and your mileage may vary.


Welcome to the era of hair trigger commentary..

At first glance it might appear that Shirley Sherrod, Old Spice, and Uniball have little in common.

However, they do.

Each have fallen foul to knee jerk commentary from people who haven’t taken the time to analyze, contemplate or find out the facts before casting “informed” judgment.

It’s something we’ll all have to get used to, and it creates an ‘interesting’ environment for public relations practitioners who must deal with the aftermath of this whiplash analysis.

For the record:

  • Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign after a blogger posted an edited YouTube video that took a talk she gave on racial reconciliation completely out of context.
  • The recent Old Spice social media campaign – maybe because it was high profile -  attracted all kinds of “commentary” from people who said it was a failure in terms of sales after only a week online.  A ridiculously short period of time – oh and sales are up!
  • Uniball is a little more obscure, but the company was lambasted for pointing people to their Facebook site rather than the corporate web site as part of a high profile promotion.

In all three cases, commentators didn’t let analysis or even the facts get in the way of a good rant. Instead they took partial information and just jumped right in to give their “valued” opinion.

You see this increasingly on Twitter, with people erupting about some issue or other, only to tweet later that they were mistaken or it wasn’t true – and of course that’s the 2% that actually bother to correct it.

I posted about Old Spice last week, because I thought it was smart both in terms of its traditional, and more especially its social media execution.  It was a subjective post.

Although it shouldn’t, it does amaze me, in the case of Old Spice and Uniball, that people can call a campaign a failure without any knowledge of the objectives or the results.

Clearly this is the outcome of our always-on media environment and I’m far too old and grumpy to expect it to change.

Instead we can all expect to see a lot more of it and from a Public Relations standpoint expect to be fighting a lot more fires as a result.

PR people: if you want respect, pay your dues..

Is PR a profession?  If you think so then Bill Sledzik has a great post with some bad news for you.  He estimates that we’re 0/5 from the five attributes of a profession. His advice:

Follow the PRSA Code of Ethics whether you’re a member of not. Mentor up-and-coming practitioners and interns, encouraging them to act professionally. Support a “professional organization” that attempts to elevate the status of the field. And do the right thing, because “true” professionals act autonomously, always placing the public interest ahead of client interest.

This is a thorny subject. 

From time to time PR people raise the issue of the profession’s (or not) poor perception.  Normally this results in a passionate call to action, a web site, a plan, a petition.  The one common result of these efforts is nothing.  Nothing changes. Last week we had the latest effort from Keith Trivitt and PR Cog*. (*Not to be grumpy but is it ironic that someone writing under a pseudonym is giving out about PR’s perception problems? Really?)

Of course there are very good reasons why PR has a perception issue. First and foremost there’s a lot of very poor practice out there. Some of it is due to laziness, some of it is due to a lack of professional pride or competence and unfortunately some of it is due to a serious lack of ethics. However, it all adds up to a huge reputational challenge.

We are not helped that the barriers to entry into this line of work are at best low and at worst non-existent.

Let’s also not forget that the level of membership of our professional bodies is incredibly low.

I welcome people’s passion and their attempt at affirmative action.  But in my opinion it’s a waste of time, energy and resources.

If you are a PR practitioner and you are serious about addressing our collective perception issues, then the first thing you should do is join your local professional body, adhere to well accepted (global) code of ethics and invest your energy in evangelizing the need for professional membership.

When I lived in Ireland I was a long-time member of the PRII and was lucky enough to spend a few years on the Board.  There I saw firsthand the hard work underway around the world to agree standard codes and evangelize their importance.

The challenge is that while the professional bodies can provide a collective voice for practitioners, their validity is proportional to their membership.  If PR people don’t sign up then their impact and mandate is reduced.

Now I am well aware that these bodies have their limitations, however the fact remains they are already doing a lot of work to address these issues and the more people who sign up, the greater impact they can have.  If you want to make a positive contribution sign up and get involved.

So, put away your new wiki or website. Instead pay a visit to your local professional body, sign up for membership, read and embrace the code of ethics and start educating people about them.

Addressing PR’s perception issues is a complex and some would say impossible task.  However, supporting our professional bodies will help this issue far more than any website or amateur plan.

Share your thoughts in the comments below or let me know on Twitter.

Disclaimer: I was a long time member of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, though my membership has lapsed since my move to the United States last year.  The PRSA and IABC are on my to-do list.  Add your local professional body to yours Smile.

Update: Judy Gombita over at PR Conversations penned a post on a similar topic a while back: Industry, trade or profession? Some observations on PR associations, present and future


Posted by Tom Murphy