The public relations industry's trade association is running a campaign to come up with a new definition for PR. I can see the problem, since social media technologies have democratized the tweaking, spinning, and obfuscating of the truth that used to be the exclusive purview of PR professionals. In an age when anyone can be an expert on anything, every opinion is as valid as the next and no fact need go unchallenged, contradicted, or ignored.
The mediascape has become a truth free zone. You’d think the PR people would have died and gone to heaven, but there’s no money to be made when nobody needs an intermediary to peddle access through those Pearly Gates.
We’re all PR people now.
So the industry doesn’t have an image problem, which it’s all to happy to address, but a reality problem that it’s ill equipped to acknowledge, let alone act upon. Its campaign, called Public Relations Defined, is a public survey (itself a PR tactic) intended to collect answers to the question: “Public relations (does what) with or for (whom) to (do what) for (what purpose)?” Word clouds will be developed, finalists chosen and posted on a web site and voted upon, and voila! A new definition will have arrived.
The PRSA should be embarrassed. Imagine any other professional trade association putting the very purpose of its industry up for anonymous chatter and voting? Let’s ask random people what "accounting" means, or whether "lawyering" is about doing legal things..or something newer and exciting! The flip side...not embracing change whatsoever...is also pretty lame, and all you need to do is consider what has happened to the advertising industry. Talk about a profession that gets no respect anymore, as its practitioners have allowed themselves to be pigeon-holed and disparagingly defined by social media salesmen who don’t understand a thing about how stuff gets marketed or sold.
Wait a minute. Those are the same folks who’ve taken away the job of chief manipulator from PR people!
The last thing the public relations industry needs is a public relations campaign, though; rather, its elected leaders should have the intellectual firepower and intestinal strength to face up to their reality problem. Come up with an insight and subsequent action plan that does real things in real ways that have real, lasting meaning and utility to the worlds of business and everyday life.
I know I’ve dissed the crowdsourcing approach, but I have a suggestion to share: I think PR people should pull a 180 and become the keepers of truth. Think less wily communicator and more parish priest. Conscience, not creative dissonance.
Our public institutions have no authority any longer, and nobody thinks much about brands other than that they’re mildly entertaining, sometimes. What if the public relations industry stepped up and established objective, measurable, and trackable qualities for defining and propagating truthful communication? It could become the uber-intermediary for content, kind of a Good Housekeeping seal for things companies say or detractors allege, and provide for a continuity of communication within and across businesses. Become a synonym for trusted content.
In other words, play totally against type. When the world embraces falsehood, embrace truth. And do it not just with declarations but real actions. Do truth, don't just talk about it
I have no idea how this would work, or even if it would be possible. But it would be worthy of some discussion, and if the concept seemed to have legs it would be easy to plan against it with real actions, not just creative hype
Leave the nonsense to the bloggers and chat rooms.
(Image credit: no room to get any better at this)