The Perfect Storm for PR?

28 October 2010

Closing the perfect storm of conferences including the ANA, the PRSA international conference and the Council for Public Relations Firms Critical Issues Forum, I’m wondering about the health of my profession.  P&G global marketing and brand building officer Marc Pritchard talked about purpose-inspired brand building at both the ANA conference and Critical Issues Forum, which became a theme of the former and elaborated on in the latter as he extolled the power of public relations.  But he also said that PR has to step up and make it clear what PR can do, and in order to do so, we need to get brand-building expertise, stake our claim in digital, and create and be adept at delivering big ideas. 

In a Socratic debate panel at the Critical Issues Forum, Heineken USA CMO Christian McMahan claimed that he was “shocked that the ATL agencies are coming to me to do the community management online, and not the PR firms.”  IKEA USA CMO Leontyne Green said that PR firms are passive when we need to be the experts, coming to the table prepared to bring the big idea.  And Monster Worldwide CMO Ted Gilvar claimed that PR hasn’t done a good enough job at connecting what we do to ROI. 

We’re clearly missing a trick here.  If this is PR’s time, as Pritchard reflected, why aren’t we stepping up?

Long ago, PR executives fought for a seat at the top table, and reporting directly to the CEO remains a coveted position.  I know that PR, together with HR, finance and operations, can play a broader role than contributing to the marketing mix.  And I realize that it’s akin to blasphemy to many PR folks to suggest that PR should report to marketing.  But there’s a middle ground to be found where integration and collaboration are key to the success of a brand, the company and indeed the health of the overall business.  And I worry that PR practitioners may be getting so wrapped up in historical theory and turf protection that they are losing sight of the practicality currently required to grow business.

Most if not all of the ANA presentations from CMOs featured PR-inspired activations and amplification by earned media and word-of-mouth.  But the presence of PR folks there was scarce.  Are we surrendering our claim on what is becoming the most important aspect of marketing to other disciplines?  Digital agencies are hiring the odd PR expert to build legs around their campaigns, and likewise advertising agencies.  Ad agencies are entering PR campaigns at Cannes – and winning.

So, are we just going to roll over like lapdogs and let “our” time pass us by?  Or are we going to rise to the occasion and bask in the glory?

2 Responses to “The Perfect Storm for PR?”

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  2. Cyrus Afzali

    This is never the politically correct answer than many want to here, but I’ve maintained for a long time that it’s because we don’t have a very effective industry association.

    Simply put, the PRSA hasn’t done much to educate the broader business community who we are, what we do and why it’s valuable.

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