Commentary

Curing The PR Patient In 2013

Doctors, it is said, are often the worst patients. Why? Well, not to generalize too much -- but many feel compelled to interfere with their own health management, trampling the jobs of accomplished nurses and other qualified physicians because, after all, they are doctors too. And damn it, they know what’s best for their own bodies!

True enough. But doctors aren’t the only professionals blinded at times by their own confidence -- errr… arrogance. Many others are guilty of letting pride block rational thinking, stymieing best courses of corrective action.

Countering the signs and symptoms of a communications illness  

Right up there with our trusty MDs are our very own PR professionals. As we close out 2012 and face a New Year, I fear our industry has developed an infection -- caused in part by an outdated way of measuring our own “health” (or revenue and client success) and the failure to cede some of our communications control to others in our industry who might be able to heal our ailment. Maybe we should call it acute communicative technological undermining and paralysis, or ACTUP for short.

Taking your PR patient history

The signs of ACTUP include:

  • The reliance on dated metrics like advertising value equivalency, as well as the Web’s equally rickety ad value formula that is as much substantive as it is subjective. While both formulas no doubt strive for empirical accuracy and consistency, they fail to incorporate the vagaries of a news story’s importance to a reader, and whether the length of an article is truly a measure of its worth. In other words, bigger isn’t always better and color (versus black-and-white) may not always bring in more green (cash).
  • Failure to appreciate that in many circles, public relations gets some rather bad press -- even from within its own ranks. An October 2012 study by research firm Edelman Berland (part of the Edelman PR empire) found that when asked the question “Which profession provides the most value to society?” only 11% of consumers felt “PR Professional” met that standard. Think marketers themselves would reach a healthier conclusion? Think again. Less than a third of those working in communications (23%) felt their job held societal value. Coming from an industry that prides itself on message management, this is an abysmal finding.
  • An almost allergic reaction to many forms of social media. And in the select cases where it is adopted, its integration into the messaging plan is haphazard and ad-hoc. Sometimes that means big failures with little impact. Case in point: a little error, one keystroke long, caused quite the embarrassment for the United Nations in November 2012 when UN Information Officer Nancy Groves tweeted about the UN General Secretary’s desire for a 1-state Palestinian solution when in fact his official position supports a 2-state resolution. Oops.

PR patient prognosis: healthy if we ACT now

To be clear, I’m not saying I have ACTUP’s cure. Nor have I been holding out all this time as the PR industry was ridiculed both privately and publicly earlier after it tried to give itself a new definition of what exactly it does -- the first attempted definitional overhaul since 1982. I won’t bore you with rehashing it, but suffice it to say it’s loaded with enough jargon and wordsmith gobbledygook to make you hang your head in shame and consider a new profession. Doctor maybe? But as we begin 2013, the adage remains sound: recognizing there’s a problem is the first step toward recovery. It’s the conversation starter that inspires feedback, makes waves and, frankly, gets sh*t done. 

In fairness, the fact that the PR industry has tried to redefine itself speaks to the beginning of that conversation. However, that’s not good enough. Traditional metrics aren’t likely to change much any time soon. But as the Web, carried by smartphones and tablets, grows ever more complex and critical for communications, we must as an industry better embrace these technologies. Not as gimmicky add-ons and apps, but through integrated, ground-up measures.

Although we may struggle to define ourselves and ad values remain notoriously suspect, there’s no doubt that in the tech-savvy, 24/7 news world we live in, our services are vital to the clients and corporations we serve. So we better get healthy and ACT fast.

Here’s to a happy New Year knowing we’re actively addressing our communications shortcomings. And here’s to a healthier one as little by little, brainstorming session by brainstorming session and conversation starter to conversation finisher, we tackle and triumph over each of our collective symptoms! It won’t happen in a day, a week or a month. And it won’t happen if readers aren’t engaged (come on, folks -- let’s see some creative responses below). But as with medical professionals, nothing inspires us quite like a challenge and the discovery of a new illness.

Together, let’s prove we can be better patients after all.

 

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1 comment about "Curing The PR Patient In 2013".
  1. Gerard Corbett from Redphlag LLC , December 28, 2012 at 4 p.m.
    Ms. Horwell: Interesting POV. But I think your diagnosis is over the top. The fact is, the work that is bad (or goes bad) is visible and reported on. The stellar work is often not recognized. My take is that the industry is healthy. To your point, as with other industries, there are bad actors that give the industry a bad name. The cure is to lose the bad actors. To a healthy and prosperous 2013. Gerry Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA