I was signing copies of my latest book, “The New PR,” at last week’s National Book Expo in New York, and I must say that I came away from that experience with a wonderful new enthusiasm for the public relations profession. A great many people turned up to receive autographed copies and many of these good folks work in PR.
The clincher, for me, was the enthusiasm expressed by these PR people to seek out new ideas and different strategies to the profession. Many people took their copies of “The New PR” expressing satisfaction that they might come away with game plans they could incorporate into their daily public relations efforts.
I am mentioning this because such statements obliterated one of my greatest fears for PR: the unwillingness of professionals to change and adapt with the times. Too many PR people are either confused or angry at how the industry is evolving, and they constantly harrumph whenever the notion that the lines allegedly separating PR and marketing are “blurring.”
PR is, in many ways, its own worst enemy. Too many practitioners are so stuck in the concept of traditional media relations that they shortchange their organizations and/or clients with outdated tools. Concepts such as web design, guerrilla marketing, in-house video production or experiential promotions are alien to them, and they don’t wish to pursue it because it’s not what PR is supposed to be about.
Even worse, too many PR people don’t want to see the bigger picture – of how PR can strengthen the bottom line. The inability to properly channel PR to build sales and ensure brand recognition will ultimately doom too many PR practitioners to irrelevance. In “The New PR,” Terry Hemeyer, a senior counsel at Pierpont Communications in Houston and a senior lecturer on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin, said it best: “(PR people) are too tactical – they are too worried about using the AP style in press releases and not about the company, its goals and its objectives.”
Not helping this matter are the entities that should be driving the industry forward into new and bolder directions: the do-nothing trade associations, who are so stuck in the past that they literally can’t see the forests for the trees, and the PR trade journals, who have become so incompetent in their non-coverage of the changing industry that they’ve passed over from an advance state of hopeless mediocrity into the point-of-no-return realm of utter irrelevance (and people are paying hundreds of dollars annually for that muck?). Thank goodness for independent PR practitioners who are blogging and podcasting their opinions – the future of the industry is online and (best of all) free to access!
I have no clue whether any of the potential readers I met at the National Book Expo will actually follow the new ideas and strategies into their daily routines. But even if they don’t, I am still satisfied with the notion that they are open to considering something different. That, in itself, is a step in the right direction!
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book "The New PR" will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)