A big moment occurred on Strumpette this week with the either/or piece by Marcia Silverman, CEO of Ogilvy Worldwide. Special thanks to Ms. Silverman for violating the unofficial PR CEO August hiatus on conversations about the conversation and finding the voice to speak. Ms. Silverman made a definitively ambiguous statement -- a title like “Digital Media: Yes! And No!” does not promise singular impassioned fervor -- but a statement nonetheless, more than we get from most other PR agency CEOs.
Ogilvy PR, according to its web site, has more than 60 offices worldwide and handles clients like Bristol-Meyers Squibb, DuPont, Merck, Motorola, Microsoft, Novell, Sony, Verizon. Ms. Silverman is a lifelong Ogilvy-ite. In 1981 she was one of the original employees of Ogilvy & Mathers Public Affairs. That’s more than 25 years steeped in the traditions of the business to rise to the top position of a major global PR firm. I am sure that change does not come easy for Ms. Silverman and all this mishigoss about a PR revolution is somewhat amusing.
Still, I would like to have seen Ms. Silverman engage Strumpeteers as they reacted to her yin yangism. Making a proclamation and then disappearing is precisely what PR 2.0 is not about. Control vs. non-control was a prevailing theme of the 15 comments to Ms. Silverman. Does she have an opinion on the comments? Is this CEO outreach by Strumpette a series of lectures or an ongoing dialogue?
Consider the audience. This is Strumpette, home of the Wild Bunch PR gang. We crave the verbal battle that spirals off into unknown territory. We love instigators. This is an excerpt from Matt Gentile’s comment about the comments on Ms. Silverman’s piece (typos intact): “Goodness gracious we've learned about Shakespeare, traveled to a mountain top in Napal, taken hallucinogens, communism, anarchists and touched on management 101: planning and control themes. I love this site! ha.”
You have to admit that enthusiasm for new ideas and exploring the outer reaches of the freedom to express ourselves in an otherwise constricted business is what makes this whole digital PR business exciting. The real issue I would like to see Ms. Silverman and her peers address is how digital PR is impacting the business from the inside out.
Peter Himler hit on it in a piece for Bulldog Reporter called The Dichotomous Zone: Accepting PR’s Digital Dilemma. At a Publicity Club of New York event Peter asked 120+ PR pros how many used an RSS reader. Six raised their hands. He decided not to ask how many knew what RSS stood for. After all, they paid for lunch and a program, not to be embarrassed.
What would be the response if Marcia Silverman asked the same question at an Ogilvy PR event? How many account managers at Ogilvy PR even know what RSS is? At an Edelman-sponsored event at Columbia Jody Kantor, political reporter for The New York Times, talked about how reporters today need to be technologically savvy, to be as smart about how they find and distribute news, as they are about creating content. That’s the reality of the digital landscape that dominates media today. PR is not leading this revolution. For the most part it’s not even in the game.
The day after Ms. Silverman’s piece, Toni Muzi Falconi, currently teaching at NYU’s Master Program in Public Relations, posts a piece arguing for certification for PR professionals. I got into the PR business because I desperately needed a job and I was not qualified to do anything else. A remarkable amount of PR professionals followed the same route. Whenever I told my old boss I wanted to take a PR course he would scream at me “Read the newspaper.” As far as PR, I followed the Theodore Roethke philosophy: I do by doing what I have to do. I always thought that “APR” tag I saw on resumes was a joke.
Amanda Chapel has a point when she points to the benefits of regulating hookers as a model for PR. Mr. Falconi counters about unlicensed hookers who don’t even acknowledge they are hookers. Prostitution and PR, two professions intertwined; now we’re talking. At least Mr. Falconi is in the conversation. That’s the spirit we crave.
Mark Rose is editor of PRBlogNews - a web publication focusing on public relations practices in the digital age.