Why are so many shifting away from describing what they do as public relations? If it’s not agencies quietly dropping the words from their company names, it’s individuals doing the same with their job titles.
I can understand why certain agencies have done this. Some have refined what they offer to focus on the narrower field of marketing communications or just communications in general. Others may have diversified into providing the full stack of marketing services. Or merged with another, larger agency in a different discipline. PR may now be just one aspect of the expertise on offer. More cynically, it might just be so that they can say ‘yes, we can do that’ when asked by a new client about their capability.
For individuals, I accept that it’s easier to explain if you say you work in communications or marketing. And you’ll probably get a better response to the inevitable ‘What do you do?’ dinner party question. There have been occasions when I’ve described my work that way. It’s just easier. Explaining PR at a party risks getting yourself struck off the guest list. Whereas saying you work in digital content marketing or influencer relations sounds much more au courant. You’ll certainly see less people backing slowly away.
Most of these aren’t bad reasons to ditch PR as a descriptor. But putting them aside, I suspect there’s something else going on. It’s hard to pinpoint but I think it may be partly wrapped up in the perpetual debates about the difficulties of defining PR, and whether or not it’s a profession or a trade. Buried beneath both lie seldom-admitted insecurities and a sense of inferiority, relative to the true professions. Dropping PR from job titles and company names must be understandably liberating to those who suffer from this malaise.
Does any of this really matter? I think it does. Whilst PR has changed a great deal in many ways, mostly since the internet arrived, in many others it hasn’t changed at all. It’s still about PR people building relationships with groups of other people (stakeholders if you wish) in support of their employer’s goals. It’s still about attitude and behaviour change – what you do and what others think – not just what you say. It’s still about earned influence. The tools and techniques we deploy are more varied and more complex now. But it’s still PR, just PR in a digital world. Not, as some like to call it, ‘digital PR’.
Calling what we do anything but PR isn’t helpful on any level. It doesn’t help when we’re trying to attract fresh talent. It doesn’t help when we’re trying to sell ourselves on LinkedIn. More importantly, it confuses buyers and can lead them to make poor decisions. Many of these people are already baffled by all the agency overlap we now have, on top of the currently fashionable but vague job titles.
I’ll accept that PR isn’t a perfect label but it’s still the best way of describing what I do for a living. That’s why I, for one, won’t be ditching it anytime soon.
What’s more, I’m in good company. Both M&C Saatchi and Golin have recently had epiphany moments, re-embracing their former abandonment of the term PR. This is very encouraging news. I wonder who will be next?
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