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Does PR need a rebrand?

6th November 2014


As an industry PR has a lot to be proud of, but it doesn’t shout loud enough about the value it brings. As Jon Priestley, head of PR agency Wolfstar London says: "For a profession that does so much to build brands, profiles and status of others, we are often unable, or unwilling, to promote our own industry. Whether it's succumbing to chronic self-doubt or crises of conscience about our profession, PR practitioners seem to be hesitant to promote the industry as something valuable.”

Priestley admits that he has sometimes failed to express PR‘s value: “I've witnessed and probably been guilty myself, of resorting to stereotypes, mumbling about 'working in PR' before quickly changing the subject or simply not speaking favourably about our chosen profession. This would be fine if others in the marketing industry, such as advertisers or SEO practitioners, did the same but from my experience they simply don't.” 

“The hard reality is that the more we devalue our profession, whether in a falsely modest way or not, the more we enforce PR's position at the bottom of the marketing and communications pecking order. And what does this mean? It means we're fighting for the scraps when marketing budgets are doled out, whilst advertisers and SEO practitioners take the lion's share. It really is that simple."

Discussing the worth of PR, Phil Morgan, deputy chief executive of the CIPR, points out it is an “intellectually demanding strategic management discipline”, adding that it creates and sustains the relationships that enable organisations to successfully navigate the modern world: “Organisations need to understand the role of reputation and the nexus of relationships through which value is created. This is what public relations professionals bring to their clients and employers.”

Morgan is aware that those outside of PR, think that media relations is all that PR involves, but this is just one part of the job: “Public relations is a chartered profession, similar to accountancy, engineering and architecture. Excellent technical communication skills are vital, but many people, including too many who work in public relations, commonly think media relations is what public relations is all about. It is only one part of what we do.”

Further extolling the virtues of the PR profession, David Wilson, group managing director of PR firm Bell Pottinger, says: “From beyond the spotlight, our profession has traditionally helped C-suite executives and other leaders to hold centre stage and convey their message in the most effective way possible. A profession where turnover reached £9.6 billion in 2013 and employs 62,000 [source: PRCA Census], public relations is a vital component of today’s media and industry in general. While a chosen few in the media may seek to blight us, in reality PR and the media hold a symbiotic relationship that flourishes together.”

Like Wolfstar’s Priestley, Wilson and CIPR’s Morgan call for PROs to better promote the worth of what they do. Wilson says: “We have been slow and generally ineffective in promoting the value of our profession. That has meant that misconceptions of PR have been allowed to permeate through others, notably those who have chased and represented celebrity, and the limelight itself. It’s now vital that we begin to demonstrate confidence in our position and the value we bring – defining the benefits we derive from the reputations we steer and the ROI on the campaigns we shape. We need to improve understanding and be proud of the profession within which we operate.”

Morgan adds: “If people you work with make the mistake of underestimating public relations, ask yourself: ‘do I deliver a deeper understanding of relationships and reputation? Am I enabling better strategic decision-making?’ If you want to destroy the ‘PR’ stereotype and smash the myth that public relations is an undemanding dead end, then get to grips with what you do for a living and think, speak and act like a professional. If we don’t live up to our potential we give people permission to underestimate us.”

Soundbites

We need to prove our worth in order to be able to brag says Mark Knight, director at PR firm Broadgate Mainland: “The integrated nature of communications, across multiple channels, should play positively to the strengths of PROs, but the industry grapples with demonstrating ROI. Given the multitude of analytical tools available we are moving in the right direction, but the PR industry sometimes struggles to quantify success. We need to measure success by talking to the client, understanding the business objectives and aligning the communication results to the business plan. Agree success, implement the programme and measure ROI. With creativity and embracing modern metrics we can win the bragging rights.”

As well as shout about its skills, should PR demand more money for its services? Claire Thompson, consultant at Waves PR, says yes and no: “There’s always a service/price/quality issue, but the digital landscape means more market entrants. It’s absolutely the worst time to be putting up fees for content creation in particular – there are a million and one digital/SEO agencies out there who can do it well, do it fast and don’t tend to have the same constraints placed on them as PR companies/functions. Where PR wins is understanding audiences and strategic/influential communications practises – the quality end of the market.”

The problem with PR promoting itself, is that PR’s role is always to be behind the scenes, says Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera PR: “Nick Hewer, from the BBC’s Apprentice, is a PR man and he comes across as someone who can (and did) add value to Lord Sugar’s businesses – but we may never know which campaigns he co-ordinated because PR is by definition not in the limelight.”



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