Transforming the PR industry through upgrading our reputation and demonstrating an understanding of value

This blog started as a BTL response to Mike Love’s blog posted on Linkedin. Mike is a senior communications advisor with remarkable experience and a very good way with words. We come from different places politically and adjacent spaces professionally, but I’m always interested in his thoughts, especially as they’re usually communicated with humour and intelligence. Suggest you click on this links before you read the rest of this post. https://oldbeansblog.com/2016/12/15/trust-me-im-in-pr/

Right, you’re back. I’m sure none of you are surprised that I pretty much agree with Mike’s core arguments about the value of communications, how we win and earn trust and that we need to demonstrate our relevance to the core balance sheet / share price correlation to be considered genuinely strategic partners to management. It’s too easy to be labelled as either sales marketing / support or “fluffy”; for which the Germans have no word apparently; either of which suggests the function should be managed significantly below Board / leadership level.

The bit that really caught me was less in the piece itself, but was in the linkedin note that encouraged me to click in the first place: “Nobody cares what PR is called, how many events and seminars it has, or whether it is a “profession” or not. What they care about is whether it can do anything for them and their businesses. Trust is something earned by delivering business benefit – Show me the money!”

I might be wrong, but this feels like a dig at the fairly high profile constituency of senior PR professionals that is extremely keen on the upgrading of PR, especially when compared to other industries; such as the law, banking etc.

As some of you might know, one of my major hobby horses as regards the PR industry is its lack of diversity. We are an extremely white middle class industry, due in part because graduate salaries are so low as to need a certain amount of parental support, especially in London. In an ideal world, we’d be able to persuade a 22 year old from to choose Bell Pottinger over Goldman Sachs. To do this, we need to fundamentally change the perception of PR as an industry and the value of the service it provides. For the industry to have a future, we have to be able to persuade the best and brightest 22 year olds to consider communications as an equal to finance and law.

The reason we have to change this perception is somewhat financial. The perceived value of law / corporate finance etc means they can charge higher fees. Whilst Senior PR people earn well into 6 figures, getting them close to corporate financier / legal eagle levels; at the graduate level there’s a massive disparity of up to £50k. An ex colleague Stephen Waddington had it exactly right where he tweeted recently “enhance perception of value, enhance fees, pay staff more”.

So how do we do this?

Mike has the core argument set perfectly. PR can and should be seen as a strategic management function, just as much as law or corporate finance. What we need to do is harness this strategic understanding and vision, remove the cynicism which is hardwired into Mike’s political soul and then combine with the modernising and proselytising zeal of the Stephen Waddington type communications industry advocate.

If we can effectively demonstrate the balance sheet value of strategic communication, the PR Industry will be more highly valued by those that “buy” it than is currently the case. Then we can reshape the industry to something more equitable.

Oh look, a unicorn!

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2 thoughts on “Transforming the PR industry through upgrading our reputation and demonstrating an understanding of value

  1. With thanks to Paddy for the compliments, which I am more than happy to reciprocate. I agree with the above post wholeheartedly, putting my hardwired political cynicism aside. I have always wanted PR/Communications to be taken more seriously as business disciplines. But I’ve equally been concerned that some people think they will be taken more seriously just because we re-brand ourselves like dustman calling themselves recycling materials managers.

    There seems to be an obsession with “professional” status. In my vocabulary, professional means three things. First, there are “the professions.” I restrict these to the law, medicine, architecture and accountancy. I do not believe this is a club which is open to more members. Second, it means being professional – meaning ethical, efficient, effective and competent. Hopefully we are all of those things whether called professionals or not, just as computer wizards, social media gurus, and plumbers would also claim. And third, it means we charge for our services, which hopefully goes without saying. I don’t particularly believe that any of this is aided by “chartered status”, “guilds,” or any other school of grand wizardry or quasi masonics.

    I would like to see PR/Communications made more not less open and diverse. i don’t want to see barriers, I want to see wide open doors to all the talents. In my opinion it is a move in the wrong direction to make it a graduate only entry job, and a mistake to dress ourselves up as lawyers and the like. i have always thought of PR/Communications more as a trade than a profession, and that trade can be learned in many different ways. All of the best ways, not being in the classroom.

    My last thought (and I feel another blog coming on) is that PR is not one thing, it is a catch all label covering many very different disciplines. I would like to see corp comms/financial PR/public affairs sitting alongside the professional services people in organisations. I see consumer and brand PR and most digital communications as not replacing marketing/sales but as part of it.

    • “My last thought (and I feel another blog coming on) is that PR is not one thing, it is a catch all label covering many very different disciplines. I would like to see corp comms/financial PR/public affairs sitting alongside the professional services people in organisations. I see consumer and brand PR and most digital communications as not replacing marketing/sales but as part of it.”

      Yup. What he said. Which is probably why I’m most comfortable interacting with people involved in the former, not the later.

      I’d consider adding engineering to the list of professions as they have to solve problems that are philosophically similar to those of doctors / lawyers and the root the vision or architects in physical / chemical reality.

      Looking forward to your next blog.

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