In celebration of 2016* marking the 110th anniversary of PR, this article is the first in a series of reflections on the profession and its practice. (*Ivy Lee, arguably the founder of modern PR, published his Declaration of Principles about the purpose and value of PR in 1906.)
To stay relevant over time―as with any communications discipline―PR must evolve and address new challenges and developments [Tweet Quote]. It also requires the ongoing adoption of new tools and understanding, strategies and perspectives. Even so, there are certain inalienable truths about PR that never appear to change, irrespective of circumstances, sector or challenge. Here are 13 of them.
1. The purpose of PR is genuinely unique, because it’s the only profession solely concerned with the protection and growth of an organization’s and/or individual’s reputation through credible communication [Tweet Quote].
2. The practice of PR is reputation management [Tweet Quote]. PR does this by building and maintaining relationships with “significant others,” i.e., those that matter most to the organization and/or individuals it serves.
3. Because reputation impacts―and is influenced by―many different factors, PR’s relationship-building must be multiple, inclusive and comprehensive [Tweet Quote] These include―but are not limited to―the media, employees, communities (on and offline), customers, investors, potential clients, government bodies, and institutions.
4. For PR to be trusted, it must have clearly defined qualities: integrity, substance, be values-driven, open and transparent, encourage dialogue and avoid monolog [Tweet Quote].
5. To have credibility, PR must be based on the business goals and plan of the organization/individuals it serves [Tweet Quote]. It should not be driven by Legal, Marketing, any other department or even outside interest. Otherwise, PR is not newsworthy or of interest, nor is it meaningful or believable to PR’s “significant others,” i.e., journalists, readers, customers, investors, employees, or the community.
6. Unlike marketing and advertising―which arguably remain fundamentally about relationship-building through the psychology and influence of selling and promotion―PR is tasked with building relationships that matter for their own sake, i.e., to sustain a shared understanding between groups.
7. To succeed as a PR pro, it’s vital to have a passion for writing and communication in general―as well as a commitment to excel in both [Tweet Quote]. If you don’t, forget about PR, as you are bound to fail.
8. PR―along with all other communication channels―must be able to withstand ever-increasing public and social media scrutiny of its credibility and honesty [Tweet Quote].
9. As with marketing and advertising, PR can help promote a service, product or brand. Unlike them, PR is not credible if it uses the language of marketing and advertising [Tweet Quote], which can be prone to a colorful riot of adjectives and even exaggeration for effect. When PR practitioners unwisely adopt such an approach, their content is rightly ignored, ridiculed by the media and others, and may even be accused of spin (exaggeration, misrepresentation).
10. A crisis is, by default, a reputation issue. Because of this, PR is best placed to be in charge of crisis communications and its management, including policies and protocols [Tweet Quote]. PR must, therefore, be responsible for:
- Informing all relationships (audiences) through a tried-and-test messaging system
- Advising management
- Guiding HR and Internal Comms on steps and actions for company-wide communications activities
- Preparing all communications content
- Ensuring content sign-off with the appropriate member of executive management (CEO, CCO, etc.) and Legal (while being sure to avoid the corruption of messages by legal jargon).
11. Because it’s about reputation management, PR is the only communications discipline that impacts on and contributes to all other communications channels [Tweet Quote]. It’s also the only one to concern itself with all audiences, both internal and external. This cannot be said of any other single comms discipline, be it investor relations, lobbying, social media management, internal communications, marketing, media relations, public affairs, or advertising.
12. The use of storytelling in PR only works if it engages, offers insight and value for the reader, is evidence-based and stays absolutely clear of any kind of selling [Tweet Quote]
13. PR is about building relationships with significant others [Tweet Quote] (see 2, 3 and 5 above). To do it right, you must expect to commit and invest serious time, energy and resources into it for the long-term. It means applying effort and creativity that is consistent and ongoing.
On the other hand, should you foolishly decide to treat PR as if it’s a fad, blip/one-off event, then you can expect to have the reputation of someone who has lots of one-night stands. And your organization’s relationships will probably last just as long (ahem).
Care to share other truths about PR? Please do add your thoughts in the Comments below. Your contribution will be gratefully acknowleged.