Posted by Amanda Chapel
First if I may, I'd like to take a moment to thank our many supporters and loyal fans. It's been overwhelming. Truly. I'm told that while I was away, we received just over 600 emails, letters and cards (637 to be exact). Two people sent flowers. :) I'm touched beyond words. Suffice to say that all of us here are all deeply deeply grateful.
With that in mind, management has asked that I reconsider. Thought is that maybe we acted rashly. Hmmm... I know I didn't. A return is not in the cards, I'm afraid. But the fact that others may think so surely means that I owe friends, colleagues, and our readers a more detailed explanation. Here it is in a nutshell: I believe with every ounce of my being that the PR business is being eaten by a 10-headed hydra. Frankly, I think the future of our business is questionable at best and certainly undignified.
See, contrary to our naysayers' harangue, our aim was NOT to tear down the PR industry. Our mission was to expose it for what it has become. Fact is, by and large we've become the business of aiding and abetting the forces destroying our culture. In a word, we've become "strumpets," i.e. anything/anyone for a buck; and Strumpette was the outrageous self-effacing platform designed specifically to expose that.
Here: Ever wonder why we continually bested the best of PR 2.0, i.e. Steve Rubel, Geoff Livingston, Todd Defren, Robert French, Susan Getgood, Scott Baradell, Phil Gomes, Michael Krempasky, Richard Becker, Rick Murray, and friends? Ever wonder why they were, and consistently continue to be, wrong? Ever wonder why our very existence made them most insecure and subsequently spittin' mad?! Answer: Simple, our entire repertoire, spanning reference to totally ridiculous, was/is grounded in ideology. Theirs is not. Even at our most outrageous... the purpose was to shame PR back on track. Their purpose is to sell hot air. The purpose of Strumpette was to inoculate the industry's reputation dis-ease. Their sole motivation still is to seduce a host.
That said, regrettably I've concluded that we won the battle and lost the war. Forget for a moment the cash, the boardroom weasels, Wall Street, and the abject amorality... forget an industry floundering without definition, the zero barrier to entry, and our fluffy sycophant trade media. Focus on that and you miss the forest through the trees. There are 10 fundamental problems that are the death knell of public relations as a business management practice:
1. Case vs. Opinion -- PR is (should be) the business of making the case to the public on behalf of a client. Exclusively! Period. And the disappearance of the skill of writing in our business is inextricably related to the loss of the ability to do just that. By default, this is absolutely why today the business endorses "the conversation." It's because the business has lost the ability to make a convincing, meaningful and memorable presentation. If you cannot do formal, endorse casual.
The danger is that today, rather than making a case that is held up to independent standard, we manipulate, influence and instigate the collective mob. Forget the facts; forget law; forget consequence. Picasso uses too much blue; let's hang 'em!
Ironically, according to Cluetain Manifesto co-author David Weinberger, this "conversation" that we now hold high neither needs nor wants us.
2. The Race to SEO -- Search Engine Optimization is NOT communications. The very idea is to dash experience and nuance and instead employ tech tricks to game Google. That and everything that goes with it is where PR is headed. Tech has become substitute for true talent. A great computer does not make a writer. To repeat Loren Feldman's mantra, "it's not the equipment; it's the athlete." Sadly, we've spurned the one true God of our business, and Richard Edelman has us out in the desert dancing around a manmade golden calf.
3. The Capricious and Radical Flattening of Hierarchies -- This is the cornerstone of the Me2Revolution. As we've disintermediated-dismembered-disrupted institutions, we scatter(ed) their specialists. Each of them now considers him/herself the center of the universe, i.e. "Me2." The problem is that tactical conviction distorts (most often annihilates) strategic direction. From a holistic perspective, radical Me2 is known as cancer.
Bottom line: Hierarchies are socially natural and necessary. But today we are rapidly tearing down those institutions and replacing them with a system (the Web) that doesn't vet information well and certainly does not learn. Is that so bad? Indeed it is. History has shown that societies built on moral and informational relativism are poor, inequitable and DANGEROUS!
4. The Rejection of Healthy Discrimination -- Along with rejection of natural hierarchies is its sinister companion, i.e. the wrongheaded liberal rejection of ALL things discrimination. In a world where all things are equal, Regent University is in the same client portfolio as Girls Gone Wild. In a world where everything is equal, nothing has value. McDonald's equaling steak means we lose the learned language of fine steak. When all things are equal, we lose the particular elevating beauty that is Mozart. Sadly, the society that loses its ability to discern, loses the language of that which raises us up above the brutes.
5. The Betrayal of "Trickster" -- As we've lost that ability to write, discern and make a case, we've found comfort with the radical transparency fascists. We've become an industry of bad lairs so we throw the baby out with the bathwater and discard the ART of Public Relations.
Listen, a "corporation" is a legal fiction. So too is the title "CEO." The job of public relations is to communicate that fictional character variously to a defined audience. Bottom line: for it to work, it ALWAYS needed to be grounded in fact and vetted by an independent standard. In the past that vetting instrument was the mainstream media. Regrettably, as Richard Edelman and friends now enthusiastically reject that... they betray and summarily discount the core character of the business. Sure, there are those that cutely try to say that we are now getting closer to "relations" with the public. Silly. Indeed, such is the business of the strumpet and the irony that is Strumpette.
6. The Nonsense of Proprietary Common Sense -- "Com"-munications starts with the prefix meaning "together, with, jointly." Communications is the common sense. There is no proprietary anything in communications and anyone who tells you that is full of squat. The differentiator in PR is -- and will only ever be -- intelligence, experience, maturity and grace.
Now, not a week goes by without some PR firm announcing some back-flip super-special proprietary thingamajig. The whole premise of Edelman's Me2Revolution Lab, for instance, is to invent new proprietary common sense. Bottom line: the more baseless hyperbole we pump out, ironically, the less credible we become. With her blog, dear Aedhmar Hines in short order proved herself to be a world's leading goose.
7. Pabulum vs. Counsel -- We were once not long ago respected business consultants. We are now the creators and purveyors of pabulum. What people like Michael Kempner and all the other PR CEO Sultans of Schmooze have learned is that to make their numbers, just give clients what they want, i.e. as opposed to what they need.
Easy money? For sure. But obsequious is never respected... and always and easily replaceable.
8. Value vs. Volume -- Today we confuse volume for value. Used to be that a few good business contacts were all you needed to build a respected and coveted portfolio. Then were slid into the 20/80 rule. Today, it's meaningless website traffic stats and Scoble’s 4,000 "friendz." Today, it's the 999/1 maybe rule, at best. Sadly, even for Strumpette: of our 35,000 unique readers at our high, we could not convert that to a directed organization. We were certainly loud, but to what productive end? Admittedly... none.
9. Popular vs. Independent Vetting -- Today, PR is the business of popularity. As our ability to measure has never overcome the kinda-ballpark-subjective, we've become the organizers of the audience driven American Idol. We invented Kelly Clarkson. We made the popularity and social value that is Paris Hilton!! PR DID THAT!
10. The Dark Side of Empowerment and the Great Seduction -- Certainly, repressing talent robs society; but give the keys to the Porsche to a 13-year old and the consequence is totally predictable. We love Mark Ragan but look at the MyRagan.com forum. In order to boost and boast about membership, we've raced to least common denominator. We've told a generation of kids that don't know shit that they have something important to say. And now they won't shut up! And now they drown out any/all serious discussion and debate.
Steve Rubel, Geoff Livingston, Todd Defren, Robert French, Susan Getgood, Scott Baradell, Phil Gomes, Michael Krempasky, Richard Becker, Rick Murray... THEY are the face of PR today. And frankly, it's a motley band of no-talent schmooze hucksters surreptitiously slinging refried common sense to a global room full of nitwit conference goers and pedestrian dupes.
So why did I give up the good fight? Because I just don't know that they're worth it. These sheep bite!
More importantly, I lost the faith that the business can even be salvaged. And I don't think the majority in the business cares if they are grossly disrespected. Excuse me... most pat each other on the back as they whistle on their way to the bank. They don't want to be saved and care less about the future.
To kill the hydra for the greater good would take a huge and courageous movement. But so far the voices of dissent have all been silent.
Wanna change the business?
Agreeing/Disagreeing with Strumpette
Although I tend to like many of the people that Strumpette bashes, I do find her/his commentary on the PR industry to be, at very least, a healthy dose of reality. As it turns out, Strumpette retired or something but now she’s back…or may...
Weblog: Point Oh!
Tracked: Oct 30, 23:18
Relating to the Public
Over the course of the past week or so, I've seen blog posts that have left me wondering what the heck has happened to the practice of public relations. A number of bloggers have called out PR people for writing...
Weblog: Media Bullseye
Tracked: Jan 28, 16:15
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Great post but I think you'll find even Steve Rubel has had a dose of reality the last couple of days.
Trouble is this problem has been a long time in the making. It didn't happen overnight or with the development of blogs. The problems you outline have been a cancer for many a year, evolving slowly but having its grossest manifestation in the stuff you describe as the face of today's PR.
One issue on which I think you are very wrong. Size isn't everything. Influence does matter and provided you influence the right people then things can and do change. The question is - do you know enough about your audience to discern that essential difference?
Thanks for this - clarifies things. I am missing you. Why not bring your crusade to South Africa - we could really do with a bit of your brand of honesty - and our web culture is so young there is still a chance to save it. The wine is cheap, the views are perfect and your dollars could go a long way. Think about it.
I'm in, of course.Plus both my cats, but you knew that.
Bravo. You said what had to be said. Just wanted you to know you have an admirer in far-flung Indonesia. And yes, the PR shit here smells as bad as your part of the world.
You hit a nerve from the first day for me and obviously your ideas and honesty seemed closer to real public relations than the alternatives. Unfortunately, even the CEO's believe that SEO and other tricks are what we must be doing to affect public relations. And, I now face a world where the bosses think I can be replaced by a guy more in touch with how to manipulate Google. It's no longer about influence and counsel - it's about tricks.
I have an idea - come to Vegas. We'll start over! (Oh, and drop me a line. I miss our conversations).
Okay, I promise to give this some thought . . . although I have posted a small comment that praises at least one idea in your scolding.
So. Amanda returns and issues a blistering manifesto to a silent, hulking audience.
Which supports her point that "I don't think the majority in the business cares if they are grossly disrespected."
The dogs bark, the caravan moves on.
Your experiment was interesting -- fascinating really. But why bother assaulting a phony kingdom. Why not just transcend it? That's where my head is. I'm wondering who else is is interested in giving the client what they really want (and, more importantly, need). Let's move on. What's our next move?
Bravo. This should be mandatory for all PR people. Now I know why I've been so frustrated the past 10 years in PR (previously I was 17 years in newspapers). I particularly agreed with point 4 (The Rejection of Healthy Discrimination). Students these days all have to get distinctions. No one is mediocre. NOT. And not in my classes. We teach honesty, credibility and transparency, and all everything tuns to bullshit. It's like everything is erased from kids' memory banks once they start work. Now I'm at the crossroads: try to make a difference at university level, or try something different (and valuable) back in the real world.
This post is why I stop to pray often at Amanda’s chapel. The very first point happens to be the very most important thing: PR is about persuasion, not “fostering trusted relationships,” whatever that means.
If I have trusted relationships with a thousand reporters and editors, but I can’t persuade even one of them to write or run a meaningful story about a client or issue of importance, it might be time to think about a new line of work—such as teaching in one of those so-called Schools of Communication. Or, becoming a prophet to the bloglings, as so many seem to be bent on doing these days.