The Wussification of Public Relations
“If at first you don't succeed, at least try to get better at whining very loudly.”
As a group, folks in the public relations trade have always had a bizarre inferiority complex. (Alongside the ineffectiveness of our professional associations, I blame the rather unsympathetic portrayals by Robert DeNiro, Kim Cattrall, Colin Farrell, Aaron Eckhardt and, going back a ways, Tony Curtis.)
It wasn’t that long ago that simply saying “PR is dead” (or, perhaps more emphatically and at book-length, Trust Me, PR Is Dead) was enough to get the trade’s online royalty to rise up as one with a Monty Python-evoking “We’re not dead!” Various influencers, recognizing this tendency, could always count on that glib epitaph — and a sloppy, all-too-common conflation of “public relations” and “media relations” — to boost clicks and links. Robert Scoble played this to great affect numerous times back in the day, and the topic was always a favorite hobbyhorse of Tom Foremski.
I get why PR people let this get under their skins, even if the level of response sometimes betrays an ironic inability to determine whether to pour water or gasoline on the fire. As a group, they struggle to explain to their own relatives what they do for a living, to say nothing of the world at-large. (Having started in tech PR, I was “in computers,” at least as far as many in my family were concerned, for most of the ‘90s.)
But, you see, we don’t need influencers and media critics to tell us that PR is dead anymore. For the past few years, we’ve started to learn how to get people to believe this without their help. You see, I’ve noticed that this vocational insecurity and unique form of kicking the ball in our own net has taken on a new form.
The “now is our time to lead!” post.
“C’mon! Put me in, coach!”
Spending a lazy afternoon Googling combinations of “public relations” or “communications” alongside variations of “it’s our time” or “it’s time to lead” is probably best accompanied by a version of Bill Conti’s Rocky theme played by kazoos.
(Holy crap… This actually exists…)
Seems like no matter what is going on in the world — the rise of social media or a global pandemic — it’s a reason for “public relations” to “lead” or “step up.”
It’s a popular topic over at PR Week:
Like, really popular.
It’s tough for me to imagine other professions or trades trying to make the business world care about its petty little turf-wars versus adjacent disciplines. Honestly, at which point did we allow our trade — comprising steely-eyed reputation stewards that a company or individual calls upon during their worst day — to become whinier than Veruca Salt loudly demanding an Oompah-Loompah?
Some of this is driven by economic jealousy in addition to (another irony) persistently negative press about the trade. PR folks have always chafed at the fact that their budgets are typically tiny fractions of what other MarComm disciplines enjoy. However, when one remains mission-focused, this becomes a distinction so meaningless and counterproductive that I actively discourage it at Bloq and among its various brands. Business partners, customers, users, community members, and stakeholders couldn’t possibly care less. Why should we?
It’s one thing to talk about the inevitable convergence of all of these disciplines. (I once went so far as describing the absence of such synthesis as a moral hazard.) It’s quite another to keep consistently approaching the business world from the position of underdog at every technological or societal shift.
Remember: Your actions and the value you deliver to an organization teach your colleagues and partners how to treat you. Keep this in mind and the notion of silly silos and increasingly useless distinctions matter a lot less… it it will always be “our time.”
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