Monday, February 4, 2013

Sometimes Invention is the Mother of Necessity

To people who don’t work in the PR business, perceptions of the industry are usually based only on that part of the industry they use.  If they hire PR people to get publicity, they tend to think PR is all about publicity and media relations.  If they use a PR consultancy any time they face a crisis, they may see the PR profession as “damage control” consultants.

This is not uncommon.  How often do we hire anyone, from a plumber, to a tax accountant, only to find out later that the people we’ve hired in the past can do so much more?

It’s with this kind of thinking in mind that I read a blog entry that was posted to LinkedIn earlier today.  The actual blog entry was written over 18 months ago and ran under the headline: “PR is Dead.”  The original blog entry ran somewhere on

Articles and blog entries like this drive seasoned PR pros to the brink. 

Every so many years, the communications technologies tend to evolve to the point that we find ourselves doing things differently.   

At the risk of dating myself, early in my career we hand-delivered important news releases to local newsrooms.  If the news was material information from a public company, we might have actually called Dow Jones and read the release verbatim to a reporter on the other end of the line, transcribing each word, before factoring it into the news organization’s coverage.  We advanced to the use of fax machines.  And then email replaced the fax.  Today, we still use email, but the way we use it is so much more sophisticated, and complemented by the use of Internet-based platforms, social media and more direct mobile communications.

So much has changed, and yet nothing has changed.  We still have to craft messages that form the basis for information consumption by targeted stakeholders.  Our messages have to be credible. They have to stand up to the highest scrutiny.  They have to be strategic and in support of our program objectives.  And they have to be palatable, delivered in ways that targeted audiences will be more receptive to them.

All of this was ignored by the author of the blog.  The LinkedIn board then lit up with input from PR pros from all over, most sounding like me.  We have to be able to distinguish between the media channel, and what it takes to use that channel, and the very essence of PR.

PR is no longer just publicity, nor just the creation of printed materials or video projects.  It’s all of the above, and it will continue to be so, incorporating new technologies as those technologies make it easier to connect with key publics.  The PR profession has shown tremendous resiliency and flexibility over the years in adapting to new technologies and putting them to use in a variety of ways.

From internal communications and investor relations, to issues management, crisis communications and marketing communications, PR always seems to be ready and waiting for the next big thing.

That’s why when we read such articles that are quick to dismiss the profession, it tends to be more a reflection of the author’s misunderstanding of his/her own role than it is a comment on the direction of the industry.

One of my favorite parts of the article actually came from a commenter at the end of the article.  The commenter described those try to redefine the profession to help it come into line with their own narrow view of PR, or to aid their own business agenda.  He said that in such instances, these articles illustrate that sometimes “invention can be the mother of necessity.”

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