Defending the PR Profession: A Call to Action From the Collective Industry

Businessmen talking and gesturingThe primary purpose of public relations is to uphold and enhance the reputation, exposure and brand affinity of companies and organizations. However, as a whole, our industry does a poor job of building its own credibility, positive exposure and brand affinity among its main constituents—businesses and entrepreneurs.

It’s time we change that, and insist our industry’s representatives and trade associations defend our long-standing reputations and work to rebuild trust among many industries for the value of our work.

Recent indictments against the value of public relations, from Michael Arrington’s numerous rants against PR and some non-creative publicists, to Brant Cooper’s baseless attack against the industry in a recent Business Insider column, have shown that despite our tremendous abilities to build brands and create positive exposure for our clients and employers, the PR industry is failing—quite badly—to uphold its own reputation. The profession has seen its reputation diminished with minimal, if any, effort as a collective group to improve others’ views of our work.

The public relations industry needs to follow the advice it gives to clients every day—do everything you can to proactively build your brand and corporate reputation, and protect your brand when it is being attacked.

We must keep in mind—and simultaneously educate those outside the profession—that public relations is more important to a free society than we get credit for. For without public relations, many small companies and start-ups would toil endlessly to receive the same public exposure and advocacy as larger competitors do, at the most dollar-effective rate versus advertising and marketing.

We are laying out a call to action for the organizations and associations within the industry that have the ability, resources and most importantly, the power, to proactively defend the profession’s reputation and educate all business sectors about the many benefits effective and responsible public relations can offer.

Our industry can no longer sit idly by while these baseless attacks carry on, aiming to degrade the solid work that the PR and communications industry produces year-in and year-out. Our counsel and strategic work has deep and long-term value (as do our media relations and publicity tactics) beyond the figure at the bottom of a bill. It is time we take a stand, communicate to our key audiences, clearly define to all parties our true value and stand up for ourselves, our colleagues and our profession. Enough is enough.

The onus to right this ship—to proactively take a stand against these baseless attacks and rants and present factual data, case studies, analytics and anecdotes of success for businesses that have used PR—falls squarely on all of us as individuals and as a collective group. This collective movement will pressure industry associations to finally, after many years of posturing with little to nothing to show for it, stand up, take a stance, defend our industry, proactively highlight the many positives this industry produces and defend all of our reputations.

The time to fight to keep our professional reputations intact and in good standing is now. This is not a task for one person, one well-placed blog post or a single campaign. It will only be effective as a proactive collective effort, delivered from the industry, over time, as a whole, representing the true voice, passion and expertise of all.

We start now. We are proposing a new manifesto detailing how our industry should be represented to the public. Upon completion, it will be delivered to the industry’s main lobbying and education association, PRSA, on behalf of the industry. It’s incumbent upon all of us to be involved in this process.

To ensure your voice is heard in this manifesto, which we plan to present to industry representatives within the next month, send us a quick e-mail at pr@cogcomm.com. We’ll get you connected with a Google doc we are developing. If you contribute, your name will be included as a signatory of the manifesto, and you will be helping to shape the future and positive reputation of a profession we all love (and love to hate sometimes).

Furthermore, we propose developing a very simple industry-wide voluntary seal of approval (early working title: Public Relations Ethical Standards of Practice, or PRESP) to be devised and overseen by a neutral group of industry professionals, and which will include no more than 10 rules of engagement and ethical practices by PR professionals. This seal of approval will be free for any agency to use and advertise throughout their websites, client proposals and marketing materials as a declaration of that agency’s ethical work, so long as they agree to abide by the conditions established by their peers—you.

Our professional world is fighting for its own survival within certain, and an ever-increasing number of, business sectors. Our work has stood on its own for decades. It time we take a stand to defend ourselves, and it’s time our industry’s representatives back us on this effort.

Keith TrivittPR Cog

Note: The views expressed in this post are solely those of Keith Trivitt and PRCog, and do not represent the views of Trivitt’s or PRCog’s respective employers, nor of any individual PRBreakfastClub writer.

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  • http://www.prconversations.com Catherine Arrow

    Keith,
    An interesting post. You might like to look at the Stockholm Accords, being prepared for the World Public Relations Forum which will be held in Sweden in June. It is a similar document to the one you propose, but is global in nature. Also, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management – to which PRSA belongs – established a global framework for public relations ethics in 2003. This will take you to both the GA and WPRF – http://www.globalalliancepr.org

  • keithtrivitt

    Catherine – Thanks so much for your support and for sending along those resources. We'll check those out, but I should stress that this is more about the industry as a whole finding its collective voice – its true brand statement – and asking those who represent us on a professional level to proactively defend our work and present information, data, stats, etc. in a clear and concise way so we can clearly demonstrate our value to any audience.

    Thanks again for the resources and support.

    Keith

  • http://twitter.com/JasMollica Jason Mollica

    Keith and Cog,

    First off, I applaud you both for standing tall and issuing a call to action. I enjoyed reading the links you associated as part of the post. It hammers home what some believe the industry really is (when it truly is not). There are also some within the industry that give our profession a bad name.

    A few points that I'd like to make. First, as an active PRSA member (and I'm sure you both knew this), the society has a Code of Ethics that we are supposed to adhere to: http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/. Does that mean everyone follows this? No. So, I think a overall code could be very useful.

    Second, the PR industry needs a spokesperson(s) to defend its finer citizens. There are the Lois Whitman types out there, but we never get the great side. I know you both understand why… the media enjoys a juicy negative story than the boring positive one. The same goes for some bloggers. I nominate the both of you as spokespersons, natch.

    Third, we need to better inform those in our industry of the importance of change. Sprinkle some past practices with what is taking shape now. There's still too many folks that haven't embraced the future.

    Great work, gents. I appreciate you allowing me to offer my opinion.

  • http://twitter.com/juleszunich Julia Zunich

    I have written about this on my blog an in LinkedIn groups. I completely agree with both the post and the comments and would like to add one emphasis. The point for PRSA's Business Case for Public Relations or the Stockholm Accords is to get PR professionals in alignment. Totally agree that is important, but where the enthusiasm seems to wane is conveying all of this to non-PR people: CEO's, executives and entrepreneurs. Yes, we can agree to agree on a set of standards, etc., but if they don't know about it or really understand it, we've just missed the opportunity to have a seat at the table.

  • http://www.serengeticommunications.com/ bethharte

    Gentlemen, you know I highly respect both of you and I commend you for this effort, but there's one thing that jumps out at me right from the start…

    Where's the aspect of “mutually beneficial relationships” between constituents and organizations?

    I have beat up this industry and the main reason is because it seems to have lost sight of its main purpose…

    Thoughts?

    All the best,
    Beth Harte
    Client Relations Director
    Serengeti Communications
    @bethharte

  • keithtrivitt

    Julia – You hit the nail on the head with this! I have heard from many people in our business today about PRSA's Business Case for Public Relations, and while this is not intended to be an attack on PRSA or any other professional organization, you are absolutely right that having all of these policies and big concepts in place is great on paper, but where is the proof in the pudding?

    How are the professional organizations that represent us demonstrating these values and core attributes to other key audiences, such as non-PR people that you mentioned like the CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs (e.g. the main people who make decisions to hire and retain quality PR counsel).

    What we are aiming to do is bridge that gap between developing really great messaging and attributes that our profession can hold up with high esteem, while also ensuring all audiences – PR pros, other industries, executives, etc. – know those key attributes and fully understand that all of us in this business believe in them and practice them every day.

    We'd love to work with PRSA or any other association/organization in more fully developing this concept, and I really appreciate your insight.

    Keith

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  • keithtrivitt

    Beth – Thanks for the very kind remark about both Cog and myself. as for your point about where's the aspect of “mutually beneficial relationships” between both parties, that's actually a strong point, and frankly, one aspect I think is lacking in almost everything we do as a profession.

    There is often one side – either directly from PR professionals or from major associations – that comes up with a concept, or a big push to do something, but then oftentimes, fails to see it through to the other side and ensure their needs are met and they fully grasp and understand the benefits of that initiative to them and their key audiences.

    What we will aim to accomplish with this effort is to finally bridge that gap by actually getting both sides involved in this process – both the associations and the professionals. Yes, we the professionals will develop this 'manifesto' but we will also aim to present it to PRSA and other associations and as a means to show them that there is a demand for change among industry professionals, and we will then aim to work with those associations to develop some type of proactive change.

    Above all else, we're not looking to get famous by this. I'd love nothing more than to simply have the groups that represent our industry hear our thoughts and concerns and work with all of us to try to do something about this. If we can accomplish that, I'd consider that a success.

    And, we'd love to have you in on this effort, Beth! You're one of the most respected professionals we know in the marketing world, and I personally think you could make a major difference in this effort. E-mail me at ktrivitt@gmail.com if you're interested :)

    Keith

  • http://www.serengeticommunications.com/ bethharte

    Hey Keith, thanks for sharing more of your thoughts with me and the offer to participate, that's very kind of you!

    Just to clarify, I didn't mean “mutually beneficial relationships” between PR pros and PR associations. I meant between organizations and their constituents.

    I think this is a huge gap in our industry… PR pros and associations have forgotten what PR is really about. It's NOT about press releases and media relations. It's about having mutually beneficial relationships. There is a multitude of reasons why those relationships are important and I think we are seeing that social media is driving PR back to its roots from this perspective.

    Unfortunately, I don't see organizations like the PRSA understanding or supporting this aspect of relationships (and one reason why I won't be renewing my membership, the first in MANY years!) or educating its members on the very important aspect of mutually beneficial relationships. Well, other than “how to pitch reporters” and “how to build relationships with journalists.” The PRSA should be driving how social media is changing the PR industry.

    Also, the days of the press release and media relations are just not as important as they once were. A smart organization can go directly to it's publics without waiting for the media to pick up its story, etc. David Meerman Scott's book, “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” shares just how much our industry has changed.

    Enough babbling… Good luck with this endeavor! I think it's an honorable one and I am looking forward to seeing your success.

    Beth

  • http://indefenseofpr.com prdude

    I'm glad you're trying to raise awareness about this issue and defending the PR profession. It's the main reason I started, http://indefenseofpr.com. Well, one of the main reasons.

    A call to action is exactly what we need now. I'm sick of hearing how bad PR has gotten. I'm tired of all the PR pro tips by journalists who've never even practice PR.

    I think if all PR pros banded together to weed out the snake oil salesmen among us and boycott pitching bloggers/journos who simply hate us just because we are in PR, we could really make a difference. I say we come up with a list of reporters/bloggers who shouldn't get any info from PR people…let's name names. There's always a better outlet out there to get clients covered.

    In Defense of PR,
    @prdude

  • laermer

    Yeah it's so easy to say stuff like this when you are young and inexperienced and full of piss and vinegar. I suggest reading Bad Pitch Blog. We've been doing this for years. You should spend more time doing work, dude. also, you need an editor–ha!

  • keithtrivitt

    Beth – Thank you so much for the very insightful remarks and your support. That certainly means a lot to this effort.

    David Meerman Scott's book was a career-changing read for me, as it opened my eyes to an entirely different way of thinking about PR and communications, and IMO, it should be a must-read that the PR educational system and PRSA should push communicators to read.

    We'll certainly keep you, and many others, updated on the progress of this initiative.

    Keith

  • http://twitter.com/CTMichaels CTMichaels

    whats bad pitch blog? i don't think i know anyone who reads that?

  • laermer

    child.

  • http://twitter.com/CTMichaels CTMichaels

    daddy

  • DWolcott

    Hi everyone. A lot of work went into assembling PRSA's “Business Case for Public Relations.” It's a great resource and should be part of everyone's “arsenal” when launching such efforts. Advocacy is still one of our best strategies, and with this effort our “brand” naturally shines. It's a daily battle of action, not more ideas on how to “solve” the issue. Like attorneys and congressmen, we'll continually get the occasional bashing. Yet, the same folks who bash my profession in public are the same ones who end up hiring me and my colleagues. Keep up the good fight and think about using the tools we already have, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel.

  • http://twitter.com/arthury Arthur Yann, APR

    K and C,

    Your call to action is a welcome rallying cry for the industry.

    Defending the public relations industry's reputation is something that PRSA has been working on almost since its inception in 1947, starting with the creation of the industry's first Code of Ethics in 1950; the establishment of an Advocacy Advisory Board in 2002; and, most recently, the launch of “The Business Case for Public Relations (TM)” in late 2009.

    Is there more that can and should be done? Absolutely. But as Arthur W. Page noted, reputation is 10 percent what we say, and 90 percent what we do.

    Perhaps a good starting point is to review what PRSA already has done in these areas (for context and expediency); the Ethics, Advocacy and Business Case initiatives listed above all are described on our website in great detail. The Business Case, especially, contains resources and tools that public relations professionals can use to help reshape internal and external perceptions of our profession and demonstrate public relations' roles (yes, we do more than publicity) and value.

    (@BethHarte — please consider taking another look at PRSA … in addition to what's discussed here, we're also doing quite a bit of education in the social media space, and your input and participation in this regard is welcome.)

    We of course look forward to your ideas and input as we move forward and build on this industry endeavor. This is not something that PRSA can solve on its own. And before we can convince external audiences, we must obtain the industry's own buy in and participation.

    Cheers,

    Arthur Yann
    Vice President, Public Relations, PRSA

  • http://twitter.com/LindsTR Lindsey T.

    Very thought-provoking post, gentleman. Thanks for writing. I guess my main question is kind of similar to DWolcott's sentiment. How could we use the tools that are already out there (PRSA's Business Case of PR, for example) to achieve the goals of strengthening the profession, improving PR's reputation, etc.?

    Also, since the organizations most of us belong to already have Codes of Ethics (PRSA, IABC, etc.), is there a way we could reinforce these tenets and strengthen what's already there?

  • keithtrivitt

    Arthur – Thank you so much for your comments and for taking the time to thoughtfully read this post and address some of the points we have made above, and will look to make with our forthcoming initiative.

    I do want to stress that in no way should this post or any subsequent remarks/documents be construed as an attack on PRSA or any other association. It is simply a call to action for the collective public relations industry to stand up and defend its work, and more so than that, do more on a proactive scale to educate audiences other than our own.

    I certainly respect the fact that PRSA has done much to benefit the industry, and will continue to do so, but like you said, there is still more that can be done, and quite frankly, I believe some of what can be done should be taken upon by a collective group, at least initially, so that the PRSA and other industry associations can see the needs, demands and desires of our collective industry.

    Your last point about obtaining buy in from the industry is spot on, and that's why we have opened this initiative up to anyone within the communications industry who would like to work to develop a better future for our profession. Our hope is that in doing so, we will obtain the collective voice in the industry and then work with our the profession's organizations and associations, such as PRSA, to help us refine and spread this initiative to many other industries PR comes in contact with and works with daily.

    If you have some time in the coming weeks, I'd welcome grabbing some coffee with you and further discussing some of this. You can reach me directly at ktrivitt@gmail.com.

    Keith

  • Kasey

    Thanks for your insightful comment. Adds a lot of value.

  • http://sashahalima.com/blog/ Sasha H. Muradali

    Very thought-provoking post. I'm so glad someone wrote this.

    But I think there is more to the situation than just rallying the troops.

    The industry has to clearly define what it does, first of all. I know what PR is and so do you, but does your mother or best friend? Perhaps not. And while, PRSA is a great organization, like other PR orgs, they needs to open a wider discussion to the masses rather than to their peers.

    That — amongst other things.

    Good luck w/ your project!

    @SashaHalima

  • keithtrivitt

    Lindsey – Thanks for your comments and support. Of course, there are numerous ways we can use what has already been done by the IABC and PRSA, but as someone else pointed out in these comments earlier, what has already been done isn't necessarily reaching the right audiences. It's getting to PR professionals, in some cases (though, I would say not nearly as loudly or enthusiastically as it should), but little is getting out to other constituencies, such as potential clients, executives, businesses, industries, etc., who do pay attention to the rants against our industry and they do form conclusions from those.

    We, as a collective industry, must do more to communicate with those other key audiences, and we hope to work with many of the organizations you named to fulfill that goal.

    Keith

  • http://www.reputationspr.com Reese Nank

    So right you are! And what in heaven's name are the leaders of PRSA thinking by trying to eliminate the only benchmark of competence we have – the APR – as a requirement to hold national office? We must quash this grassroots movement and stand together for quality and our reputations.

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  • Mark Schumann

    Hey, Keith, thanks for such a compelling post. It prompted some thoughts, as well, that I have posted at http://comms2020.x.iabc.com/. Thank you, Mark.

  • keithtrivitt

    Mark – Thanks for chiming in and for pointing to your post. I'll be sure to take a read.

    Keith

  • keithtrivitt

    Reese – Thanks so much for your support. I certainly agree with you that the time has come for the profession, as a whole, to stand together and finally defend its work and reputation, rather than an endless sea of disparate counterposts and counter-rants that seem to crop up every time another anti-PR meme comes up.

    Keith

  • http://www.thePRguy.com David Kirk, APR, Fellow PRSA

    I couldn't agree more with the premise but the idea of creating another credential is simply terrible! Full disclosure: I was one of the architects in re-engineering the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations and served on PRSA's Accreditation Board and its successor, the Universal Accreditation Board for nearly 15 years. We already have a mark of a person’s pledge to comply with a specific set of ethical standards (http://bit.ly/9M0RAP) called membership in PRSA. We have another mark that signifies demonstrated competence in a clearly defined set of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs), called APR. Nine (or) so PR organizations in the U.S. and Canada already have put all of their eggs in the APR basket, having dropped any of their own previous certification programs in order to establish a common standard. (IABC, to my knowledge, is the only holdout.) It makes zero sense to me to create yet another credential when we already have a huge infrastucture and an industry-wide alliance around an individual standard. What we need, IMHO, is to stop efforts such as the grassroots movement to remove the APR as a credential required for PRSA’s national office holders. (I have a poll running on my website on the subject at http://www.thePRguy.com.) I recognize that PRSA membership and the APR are individual distinctions that do not apply to organizations. Why not build on the existing infrastructure to create an organizational credential using criteria that include the percentage of principals who are Accredited in Public Relations?

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